From your posture, nutrition and exercise routine to your body in general, good posture is essential to a healthy lifestyle, and with these simple changes you can easily and quickly strengthen your back.
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Many aches and pains are rooted in mental stress or anxiety, causing your muscles to contract and create poor posture. However, over time this physiological response can lead to a feeling of tightness due to the shortening of your muscles.
Take a second to reset: breathe in deeply through your nose, hold this breath for a moment, and slowly release, consciously relaxing your muscles, allowing various tensions to ebb away.
The Power of Posture
GRAVITY Some common postural mistakes, such as leaning on one leg, standing with a rounded back, sticking your bottom out, can negatively disturb your body’s alignment and over time strain joints, muscles or ligaments. One of the reasons for this is because gravity begins to work against your body, pulling parts that are held out of line, further that way. You can allow your body to work with gravity by keeping everything neutral and in line, to reduce the pressure on your body, so just like your mental state, you should try to reset to neutral whenever you notice yourself slipping.
The way you hold yourself can change your life immensely. It affects your movement, digestion system, the quality of your breathing, and your emotional state. By adopting a strong and self-assured posture, it will not only boost your self confidence making you look younger and slimmer, but is proven to help the way you perform in the workplace.
Check out this TED Talk on ‘power posing’.
Back to Business: Back Care at Work
Work takes up almost a third of our lives, and many jobs are stationary, so it is easy to get into a bad habit of sitting still. Office workers often have particularly prevalent issues in the upper neck and shoulder area, due to rounding shoulders, slouching, hunching over, and ‘text neck’. If you fit into this category, try to stay aware of your posture and movement.
When we sit for long periods, the muscles work in a static position. Over a period of time the exertion causes the muscles and tendons to fatigue. Not moving impedes the flow of blood and reduces the supply of nutrients and oxygen to the muscles. The reduced blood flow also slows down the removal of acids and other waste products away from tissues.
Typical working static postures and the area effected would include:
- Sitting at a desk – The back and postural muscles.
- Using a mouse – Forearm and wrist.
- Viewing a monitor incorrectly – Neck and shoulders.
By keeping up regular movement, (such as a quick walk around the office, rolling your shoulders, or gently stretching your neck) you will increase circulation, supplying oxygen to the brain and other organs. This will relax your muscles and wake you up, allowing you to continue your day in the most positive and productive way possible.
"Carry a rucksack on both shoulders (not too heavy) rather than a shoulder bag"
It is important to figure out a healthy balance between work and rest. Sleep deprivation leads to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol in the body, and can potentially lead to problems such as depression, obesity and lower sex drive.
Try to take a small amount of time from each day to relax your mind and body, and aim to get enough sleep at night. This will not only increase your wellbeing and mood, but provides your body with precious time it needs to recover. Try these ten steps to help you de-stress.
Another way to improve your quality of sleep is to invest in a good mattress, with medium firmness, and use a pillow that keeps your head in line with your spine.
You may simply need re-evaluate your sleeping position: sleeping on your side or back keeps your spine neutral and elongated, while laying on your stomach puts pressure on joints and muscles.
Resting used to be the go-to advice for aches and pains, however staying sedentary for too long can be just as damaging as overdoing it. Keep moving, whether you are using gentle exercises for injuries, or doing a hard-core workout.
Don’t ignore your core! By strengthening the muscles surrounding your back, it takes the strain off the back muscles directly. So the stronger your abdominal muscles, the more protection and leeway you are allowing for your back. Talk to your doctor or a fitness instructor about the safest way to approach exercise for strengthening your muscles.
Although strength is important, always try to do something you enjoy. Why not take a break and unwind with this gentle yoga video for back pain, sciatica, neck pain and flexibility? (Suitable for beginners)
Below are some other exercise examples that are appropriate for everyone:
- Running/jogging (or if not, then walking)
- Swimming (especially front/back crawl)
- Yoga and Pilates
- Aqua aerobics
Food for Thought
Many people who suffer from back problems are surprised to find that maintaining a healthy weight and diet play a major role in back care. Take this NHS BMI Test to see if your weight is healthy, using their rough guideline.
These foods will help to promote bone density and prevent back problems:
- Sources of calcium – yoghurt, cheese and milk, dark green leafy vegetables (such as kale), legumes, sardines, salmon, almonds, oranges, tofu
- Sources of magnesium – green leafy vegetables, fish, beans, seeds, nuts, whole grains, yoghurt, avocados, bananas, dark chocolate (70% or higher)
- Vitamin D3 – try to get out in the sun, or eat fatty fish, cod liver oil
Back care doesn’t need to be a chore, and once you have worked these habits into your daily routine, you will start to notice positive changes.
If you are still suffering from back pain, try a few of these solutions:
- Take a hot bath to relieve muscle strain, stimulate blood flow and soothe aches
- Use a wheat bag or hot water bottle (for the same relaxing purpose)
- Ice-ice-baby: apply a cold compress after an injury to reduce inflammation and numb pain sensors
- Use Deep Heat Rub for warming pain relief
- Bend at the knees to pick up things - and carry them close to your body to minimise pressure on your back
- Try to stop smoking: nicotine restricts blood flow to vertebrae and disks, while interfering with your body’s ability to absorb calcium
For more information visit http://www.backcare.org.uk/back-care-awareness-week/