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How to Make New Habits “Stick”

How to Make New Habits “Stick”

Forming new habits can be just as difficult as breaking old ones. But when you stop to think about it for a moment, it is clear that all of our habits, both positive and negative, had a beginning—a time BEFORE the behavior became a clear, recognizable pattern. In other words, there was a time when your current habits weren’t yet habits at all!

So how do new habits actually form? And is there a way for us to develop POSITIVE new habits in a focused, deliberate way? We call this “making new habits ‘stick’”.

Like anything we learn, our first attempts at any new skill are usually halting and inconsistent. But slowly it becomes second nature until we can’t remember a time when we found the behavior unusual, uncomfortable or challenging. Once we’ve learned how to do something and turned that something into a recurring pattern of behavior, it’s “like riding a bicycle,” as the saying goes…

New York Times investigative reporter Charles Duhigg became something of an expert on the science of habit formation and change. He read hundreds of studies and interviewed the scientists who conducted them to discover the mechanisms behind habit formation, and wrote a book on the subject, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.”

Duhigg has described a self-reinforcing process he calls the “Habit Loop”. Based on his interpretation of neurological studies, Duhigg believes that every habit has three components: “a cuea trigger for a particular behavior; a routine, which is the behavior itself; and a reward, which is how your brain decides whether to remember a habit for the future.” For example, let’s say you want to stop being admonished by your dentist for not flossing regularly. First you put the dental floss right next to the toothpaste, so you can’t miss it (the cue). Then every time you go to brush your teeth (the routine) you floss because it’s right there in front of you. Finally, when you go to the dentist, he or she praises you for flossing regularly (the reward).

Establishing a new habit takes most people about 30 days, although it can frequently take twice that. You can improve your chances of success if you’re able to do a little advance planning. For instance, imagine you want to develop a habit of going to the gym every day. First, start small. For the first month, plan on going to the gym three days a week for 30 minutes each. Plan your workouts for days and times that are least likely to have things such as work or childcare interfere with your gym schedule. It can also help to enlist a buddy who has similar goals to join you so you can reinforce each other’s commitment. Then figure out a reward to give yourself for each completed workout, such as going out for a drink afterward with your workout buddy or enjoying a little Ben and Jerry’s, guilt-free. You can also give yourself some long-term rewards to envision, such as looking good in a bikini on the Caribbean beach you plan to visit next summer. If you can stick with it regularly for a month, there’s a good chance it will become part of your weekly ritual and you will soon crave your workouts. You can then gradually build up to more days. In three months, you may find that if you have to skip a workout you actually MISS it! Something’s just not right…

Duhigg says “If you can identify the right cue and reward—and if you can create a sense of craving—you can establish almost any habit.”

To Stay Healthy this Fall and Winter? Wash Your Hands! The Simplest Way

To Stay Healthy this Fall and Winter? Wash Your Hands! The Simplest Way

As summer turns to fall, lots of people (children and adults alike) will be spending more time inside and in closer proximity to one-another. Washing your hands is something simple we can all do to keep our schools, workplaces and homes just a little bit healthier. In fact, it’s actually been identified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the single most effective way to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

But researchers at Michigan State University recently found that only about 1 person in 20 actually washes his or her hands properly in even the most obvious hand washing scenario—after using a public restroom. According to a summary by writer Lindsay Abrams of the Atlantic:

“Of 3,749 people observed leaving the bathrooms, 66.9 percent used soap, while 10.3 percent didn’t wash their hands at all. The other 23 percent of people stopped at wetting their hands, in what the researchers, for some reason, call “attempted washing” (as if maybe those people just weren’t sure how to follow through). Although the researchers generously counted the combined time spent washing, rubbing, and rinsing, only 5.3 percent of people spent 15 seconds or longer doing so, thus fulfilling the requirements of proper handwashing. They average time spent was 6 seconds.

Why Hand Washing?

Bacterial and viral infections can be spread when the hands come into contact with infectious respiratory secretions and carry them elsewhere. This happens most often as a result of someone coughing, sneezing, shaking hands, or touching an object that has been in the proximity of a sick person and then touching the face—particularly the nose, mouth or eyes. This is one of the primary ways of transmitting the virus that causes the common cold.

Washing your hands after using the toilet or changing a diaper is of utmost importance, as the ingestion of even the smallest amount of fecal matter can cause serious illness from deadly pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella, giardiasis and hepatitis A, among others. You should also be particularly careful about washing your hands after touching garbage, handling animals or animal waste, visiting or caring for an ill person, or if your hands show visible dirt.

Those who handle food should routinely wash their hands, not only after using the toilet, but also after touching raw meat, fish or poultry, since the microbes present on uncooked food can cause gastrointestinal infections ranging from mild to severe or even life-threatening.

Perhaps those with the greatest need to wash their hands on a regular basis are healthcare workers. Because they’re constantly exposed to sick patients and patients with weakened immune systems, and since they frequently come into contact with contaminated surfaces, these professionals have a special responsibility. Before the importance of hand washing was widely understood within the healthcare community, millions of people became sick or died from infections passed along on the hands of their caregivers. During the 19th century, up to 25% of women died in childbirth from childbed fever (puerperal sepsis), a disease subsequently found to be caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes. After hand washing was introduced as a standard practice in the delivery room, the rate of death dropped to less than 1%.

It All Begins With Hand Awareness

Here are the “4 Principles of Hand Awareness”:

  1. Wash your hands when they are dirty and BEFORE eating
  2. DO NOT cough into your hands
  3. DO NOT sneeze into your hands
  4. Above all, DO NOT put your fingers into your eyes, nose or mouth

How to Wash Your Hands the Right Way

To wash your hands properly, you need only two things: soap and clean, running water. If these two things are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has a minimum 60% alcohol content.

Before washing your hands, remove all rings and other jewelry. Using running water, wet your hands thoroughly, then apply enough soap to work up a nice lather. Keeping your hands out of the water, rub them together, being sure to scrub both the front and backs of your hands, including your wrists, and also washing between the fingers and under the nails. Do this for 20 seconds, then rinse completely under the running water. Be sure to turn off the taps with a paper towel rather than your bare hand. According to the CDC, the whole process should take about as much time as singing “Happy Birthday” twice.

But What About Drying?

The Mayo Clinic recently published its own comprehensive review and analysis of every known hand washing-related study produced since 1970. Interestingly, their researchers found that drying hands was a key part of preventing the spread of bacteria. They also concluded that paper towels are better than blowers for this purpose. Here’s some of their reasoning:

  • Most people prefer paper towels to blowers, so they’re more likely to use them.
  • Blowers take too long, encouraging people to wipe their newly-cleaned hands on dirty pants or to skip the step altogether.
  • It takes less energy to manufacture a paper towel than it does to dry hands with a blower.
  • Blowers dry out the skin on your hands.
  • Blowers scatter bacteria three to six feet from the device.

As chiropractic physicians, we have a special interest in helping our patients (and non-patients, for that matter) avoid illness and injury. This means helping them develop healthy lifestyle habits—like regular hand washing—that prevent disease. We also work closely with them in areas like diet, exercise, sleep and stress management. If you’d like to learn more about what we can do to help you stay healthy and live your life to its fullest, please call or visit our office today!

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Spinal Anatomy 101

Spinal Anatomy 101

vertebrae-model-200-300 “Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where you backbone ought to be.”

-Clementine Paddleford, American Writer (1898 – 1967)

It’s no accident that so many philosophers and writers have used the backbone as a metaphor for discipline, force of will or character.  Your spine (or “backbone”) is the primary physical support for your body’s entire frame.  It’s a remarkable piece of natural engineering composed of 33 separate vertebrae that act as a single unit to provide stability as well as flexibility while you’re sitting, standing or in motion.  A healthy spine is both strong and resilient.  With proper nutrition, exercise, postural habits and chiropractic care, it can allow us to lead an active lifestyle well into old age.  However, poor biomechanics, injury and disease can cause problems with the spine that result in misalignment, inflammation, pain and restricted movement.

The spine develops from infancy into adulthood, gradually evolving from a C-shape, which is suitable for crawling, to its distinctive S-shape, which is the appropriate shape for two-legged walking.  The natural curves in the spine serve to cushion impact from movement, absorb shock, preserve balance, and allow range of motion.  The three main curves in the spine are known as the cervical curve (the neck region), the thoracic curve (the upper back) and the lumbar curve (the lower back).

There are 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 sacral and 4 coccygeal vertebrae.  The sacral and coccygeal vertebrae are those located lowest in the spine, below the area of the lumbar curve.  Twenty-four of the vertebrae in your spine are moveable. They are cushioned by intervertebral discs which act like coiled springs. These discs are fluid filled and—as we age—become thinner and more brittle, often causing us to get shorter.  Over time (or as a result of excessive wear and tear or specific injury), they can degenerate, bulge or herniate, potentially causing significant pain and loss of mobility.

There are several other common spinal disorders.  Lordosis, also known as “sway back,” occurs when there is abnormal forward curvature of the lumbar spine.  Those who have abnormal curvature of the thoracic curve have kyphosis, or “hunchback.”  Scoliosis occurs when there is a side-to-side curvature in the spine. Slight curves of less than 20 degrees do not usually present health or problems and are seldom treated.  Moderate or severe curves usually require treatment because they can interfere with the functioning of internal organs and may significantly limit physical activity.

While the bones and connective tissues of the spine are very good at what they do, they cannot support the body’s weight and facilitate movement on their own.  They need the help of strong core muscles.  Good muscle tone is important to help maintain proper posture and spinal alignment.  This is why it’s so important for us to put effort into maintaining proper posture when we sit, stand, lie, walk and run.  Over time, poor posture can place unnatural stresses on the musculoskeletal system (especially the spine), limiting our range of motion and producing pain.

In addition to its role in supporting the body’s frame and facilitating movement, the spine has another important role as well.  The spine’s bony vertebrae also encase and protect the spinal cord, which is connected directly to the brainstem.  It’s hard to exaggerate how important this protection is.  Damage to the spinal cord can cause numbness and loss of motor function.  Injury to the cervical area can cause tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia), while injury to the thoracic or lumbar area may result in paraplegia, or loss of the use of the legs and trunk.

This article serves as a brief introduction to just one aspect of your anatomy.  If you are in the Billings area and need a Billings Chiropractor and you have any questions about your spinal health or your musculoskeletal health more generally, please don’t hesitate to call us at Oblander Chiropractic or visit our office (406-652-3553).  We’re here to help!

Tips and Precautions for Winter Exercise

Tips and Precautions for Winter Exercise

cold-weather-jogging-200-300For many people, colder temperatures outside—whether at home or while traveling over the winter holidays—can mean big changes in exercise routines. Some will move their workouts indoors or hibernate during the winter months. Others, though, will decide to work with the seasons and find ways to be active outside. If you’re one of those people, this article is for you.

While there’s certainly no rule against venturing out into the cold for a little bit of exercise, it’s important to be smart about how you do it. Remember to protect yourself from frostbite, hypothermia, and injuries that can come with freezing temperatures. To help you do that, we’ve put together a short checklist that you can use to exercise outdoors safely this winter.

Remember that Cold Weather is Often Dry Weather. Winter weather is often associated with precipitation. However, as the temperatures drop to dangerous lows—close to freezing and below—the opposite is often true regarding humidity. The air will get drier, and even if you don’t sweat as much, you can still lose valuable moisture. When exercising in the cold weather, remember to drink plenty of water, even if you don’t really feel thirsty or sweaty.

Understand the Real Temperature Where You Plan to Exercise. Look up the weather on a website or app before you head out into the cold, but understand the numbers you are looking at. The general weather conditions can differ greatly from place to place locally, even in the same region. Pay especially close attention to wind chill numbers, since the combination of wind and your own movement may lead you to experience lower temperatures. The thermometer may say it’s 35 degrees out, but the wind chill may mean it feels closer to 20 degrees in certain areas.

Dress Appropriately. It may be tempting to bundle up when going out in the cold to work out, but this comes at a cost. Thick, warm clothes will make you sweat more easily, and that sweat can leach heat from your body and allow your temperature to drop to unhealthy levels. The key, as cold weather experts know well, is to dress in layers, starting with a thin synthetic layer of wicking material, then a fleece and finally a thinner waterproof coat. The added benefit to this clothing strategy is that it’s flexible. You can always take off layers if you get too hot.

Warm Up the Extremities. When exercising in the cold weather, pay particular attention to your extremities, which are more vulnerable to frostbite. It’s especially important to cover your fingers and head. If the air is very frigid, cover up your nose and mouth, too: That cold air can damage your lungs and freeze your nose.

Fuel Up. A source of energy is vital to keeping up your metabolism and keeping you warm when out in the cold. Eat a healthy amount of complex carbs and proteins before you go out, and if you’re going to be out for a few hours, then bring a snack along, too. Stay away from sugars and other less dependable sources of energy, if possible.

Start Slow. Stretching and warming up will both make injury less likely and help your metabolism pick up until you are ready for more strenuous work. Always warm up before going out into the winter weather, particularly if you are planning on an intense session with lots of running or heavy exertion. Otherwise, joint and muscle injuries could result.

Know the Danger Signs. Hypothermia and frostbite can creep up on you if you’re not careful. You can defend against the cold better if you recognize the signs. Frostbite occurs on exposed skin like your cheeks, nose, ears, and hands, especially below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia occurs when shivering cannot keep up your core body temperature and your heart and brain begin to shut down. Watch for intense shivering, sudden weariness, slurred words, and trouble with coordination.

Billings and our surrounding areas have had lots of severe cold and snow thus far this winter; be sure to be smart about going outside and take care of your health!

Techniques for Improving Circulation

Techniques for Improving Circulation

industrial-pipes-200-300A healthy circulatory system is crucial to good health. To be at its best, your body needs to be able to keep blood pumping from the heart and lungs through the arteries to your organs and extremities, and then keep pumping it back to the lungs for re-oxygenation. Anything that interferes with the proper circulation of blood puts your body’s health at risk for lots of reasons.

“Poor circulation” can mean many things. Common symptoms include having consistently cold fingers and toes, experiencing tingling in your feet and hands, feelings of numbness, tiredness and a general lack of energy, and chronically dry skin. More serious symptoms of poor circulation can include headaches, hair loss, dizzy spells, varicose veins, muscle cramps, feeling short of breath, memory lapses (due to impaired blood flow to the brain), bluish-tinted skin, and slow healing times for wounds.

What causes poor circulation?

One of the most common causes is inactivity and lack of exercise. To keep the blood moving, you need to keep your body in motion. And do it often. Poor diet and carrying excess weight can lead to poor circulation, as can diabetes and many other chronic diseases. Medically, if you have been diagnosed as hypertensive (having high blood pressure), this is almost always an indicator of poor circulation. The “high pressure” is caused by your heart having to pump harder to cause the blood to keep flowing, often because of blood vessels that have become constricted because of stress, disease, or the buildup of plaque.

How can poor circulation be treated?

Serious circulatory problems can be treated with medication. But for most people anxious to improve their circulation and thus their overall health, a few lifestyle changes can do wonders:

  • Get more exercise. Walk rather than ride. Take the stairs rather than the elevator. Go for walks after lunch and go to the gym after work. Your body functions best with a minimum of 30 minutes exercise per day.
  • Stretch more. Not just before exercising, but at your desk at work. Stretching helps to relieve stress, and stress is one of the things that can constrict your blood vessels.
  • Get massages. Massage improves circulation by stimulating the soft tissues of your body and encouraging blood flow.
  • Put your feet up. After you exercise, elevating your legs can really help you not only to relax, but increase your circulation. It also reduces your risk of developing varicose veins.
  • Eat healthier foods. Try to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (from fish, olive oil, and nuts), and lean meats. Try to avoid processed foods.
  • Drink more water, and less caffeine. When you’re thirsty, drink water instead of coffee or black tea or soft drinks. Try to cut down on or avoid alcohol, because it definitely impedes circulation.
  • Don’t smoke, or quit smoking if you do. Nicotine and the pulmonary perils of smoking are among the most common causes of poor circulation.
  • Destress, however you can. Stress has an extremely negative effect on your circulation. So try to find healthy outlets for the stresses you encounter at work and in other areas of your life, to release the stress rather than have it build up and become toxic.
  • Consider herbs and supplements that can help. Ginger, hawthorn berry, cayenne, motherwort, garlic, ginkgo biloba and vitamins C and E all can help to improve your circulation.

If any of the symptoms become chronic, see your doctor or chiropractor. Don’t try to “tough it out” and live with the discomfort of consistent symptoms of poor circulation. Some of the causes can be very serious indeed, so see an expert to make sure.

 

Older Adults: Chiropractic Care Protects Your Spine—And Your Active Lifestyle

Older Adults: Chiropractic Care Protects Your Spine—And Your Active Lifestyle

older-adult-couple
older-adult-couple

Older adults have long relied on chiropractic care to help keep them healthy and active. However, little scientific data has been gathered about the use of chiropractic by seniors, and few studies have been conducted to evaluate the potential benefits. New research published in the March edition of the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics has helped to fill this important gap. The investigators’ findings confirmed what chiropractors and their older patients have known for some time. Not only does chiropractic care help relieve older adults’ back pain, it also seems to keep them more active and protect them from limitations in their daily activities.

The study analyzed data on 1,057 Medicare recipients gleaned from nationwide research conducted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, called the survey on Assets and Health Dynamics among the Oldest Old (AHEAD). In the AHEAD survey, a subset of patients who had been identified as suffering from back pain were asked questions about their overall health as well as their ability to complete activities of daily living (ADL) and their lower body function. ADL was defined as normal activities such as walking up stairs, doing household chores, and going shopping for groceries. The researchers then compared the survey information with medical records indicating which of the older adults had received either medical care or chiropractic care during the 11-year period covered by the study.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that the chiropractic patients were much less likely to show declines in ADF and lower body function than patients who received only medical care. This indicates that they were more able to maintain an active lifestyle. The chiropractic patients were also less likely to report significant declines in their health.

The researchers thus concluded that chiropractic care appears to have had a protective effect against age-related frailty and disability. As they said in the study, “These results suggest that when chiropractic care is delivered in practice at care levels comparable to those used in clinical trials and relative to the types of services delivered within an episode of medical care only, chiropractic confers significant and substantial benefits to older adult functional ability and self-rated health.”

The findings were considered particularly significant because Medicare patients have a great deal of flexibility with respect to treatment options. They can consult medical doctors, doctors of chiropractic, physical therapists, internists, neurologists, orthopedists, and interventional pain providers. This means that the results attributed to chiropractic care were achieved in a setting where patients had access to a wide variety of therapies rather than in a clinical study format where subjects typically have only one or two options available to them.

This research also added to the existing body of evidence that chiropractic care is safe for seniors with back and neck pain, and that chiropractic can offer substantial relief for spinal conditions such as arthritis and disk herniation. Because aging causes the degeneration of spinal disks, regular chiropractic care may help to make seniors less prone to painful and debilitating back injuries like bulging disks and pinched spinal nerves.

All of this means that older chiropractic patients may be better able to enjoy their “golden years” freer from pain and disability. And it also means that they may be able to maintain a more active and healthier lifestyle.

 

 

Women’s Feet Are Paying a High Price for Fashion

Women’s Feet Are Paying a High Price for Fashion

high-heels
high-heels

Fashion before comfort… and health! That seems to be a prevailing attitude in the United States, particularly among women out shopping for new shoes. And while there are a number of shoe styles that can cause foot problems, the high heel (especially the ultra-high heel) is by far the biggest culprit. According the American Podiatric Medical Association:

  • 72% of women wear high-heeled shoes (39% wear heels daily, while 33% wear them less often).
  • 59% report toe pain as a result of wearing uncomfortable shoes; 54% report pain in the ball of the foot.
  • 58% of women purchased new high-heeled shoes in the last year.
  • Younger women are more likely to experience blisters and pain in the arches of their feet than older women. Older women are more likely to experience corns, calluses, and bunions.

Ultra high-heels have many podiatrists concerned: According to Hillary Brenner, DPM, a spokeswoman for the American Podiatric Medical Association, “Heels are getting higher and higher,” she says. “We podiatrists like to call it shoe-icide.” Ultra-high heels often result in an array of injuries, short- and long-term, from ankle sprains to chronic pain and many issues in-between.

“Ultra-high heels force the feet into a position that puts stress on the ball of the foot,” continues Brenner. “At this critical joint, the long metatarsal bones meet the pea-shaped sesamoid bones, and the toe bones (phalanges). Too much pressure can inflame these bones or the nerves that surround them. Chronic stress to the foot bones can even lead to hairline fractures.”

However, heels in general, whether they’re stilettos or mid-heels, are hobbling women all around the country. High heels are known for producing a tender knot on the back of the heel, called the “pump bump” by some. This is a result of the pressure from the stiff, unyielding high-heel on the back of the foot. Blisters, swelling, bursitis, and even discomfort in the Achilles tendon can follow.

Additionally, all high heels increase the danger of an ankle sprain. The issue most seen by podiatrists is a lateral sprain, which occurs when a walker rolls onto the outside of their foot, stretching the ankle ligaments beyond their usual length. A serious sprain may even tear the ligaments and increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

In podiatrists’ and other medical professionals’ offices across the country, women are presenting with mild to severe foot problems due to wearing the wrong shoes. Other shoes that can cause foot pain and other issues include:

  • Ballet flats, which provide no support whatsoever.
  • Flip-flops, which provide almost no protection from splinters and other injuries.
  • Platform shoes, which often have rigid foot beds, putting unnecessary pressure on the foot.
  • Pointy-toed shoes, which can result in nerve pain, bunions, blisters, and hammertoes.

So what can a woman do to stay fashionable and keep her feet healthy and pain-free? For those who love high heels, consider performance pumps, which most often come with reinforced heels, athletic shoe construction, and more wiggle room for the toes.

Another solution for the pump enthusiast is a chunky-heeled shoe. Chunky heels allow better balance with a wider surface area, which gives the foot much more stability thereby diminishing the risk of ankle sprains.

For other shoes such as ballet flats, orthotic inserts can offer the support that the shoes lack. If you’re unsure about what kind of insert is best for your feet, talk to your podiatrist to get an informed opinion on how to best take care of your feet—and look good doing it.

 

What Causes Muscle Tension?

What Causes Muscle Tension?

woman-in-pain
woman-in-pain

Muscle tension occurs when a muscle (or group of muscles) remains contracted for an extended period of time. This might be characterized as a low-energy or low-intensity muscle cramp. Such tension in the muscles constricts blood flow, which in turn keeps oxygen and nutrients from reaching the muscle tissues and tendons. Muscle tension also keeps cellular waste from being carried away. The result is more muscle tension, spasms and damage. Why does this happen? There are actually several possible causes.

One key source of muscle tension is stress or anxiety. For our ancient ancestors, stress was a simple fact of everyday life, and their ability to response effectively to imminent threats (predators, hostile neighbors, natural disasters, etc.) was an integral part of their survival. As a result, their bodies evolved a set of short-term physiological changes that helped them to meet sudden life-and-death challenges by increasing their alertness, strength, speed and stamina. Today, we refer to these changes collectively as the “fight-or-flight” response, and they’re part of our evolutionary inheritance.

Unfortunately, there is now a kind of mismatch between the kinds of modern threats (real or perceived) that most of us encounter in our day-to-day lives and our bodies’ primitive fight-or-flight response. Instead of short-term physical dangers, modern stress is much more likely to come from social or financial pressures that are (usually) lower-intensity but more prolonged. Mounting bills, insane work deadlines and relationship problems are all great examples. This is a problem because our fight-or-flight response was really designed to be “switched on” only for very short periods of time—essentially, just as long as it took us to either defend ourselves or escape from a physical attack. It turns out that the human body pays a high price for the fight-or-flight response, and this price is especially high when the response is activated continuously over long periods of time, even at relatively low levels. Chronic muscle tension is just one potential result.

Muscle tension can also be the result of underlying structural problems or injuries affecting the musculoskeletal system, especially in the back or neck. When the spine is misaligned or there is an injury, the body may compensate by activating other muscles or muscle groups to stabilize the area and prevent pain. These muscles are put under additional strain for which they were not designed, leading to chronic muscle tension.

Chronic muscle tension itself can lead to new kinds of discomfort and pain. The pain can lead to an increase in anxiety and more muscle tension. This becomes a vicious cycle—an unhealthy, downward spiral. Luckily, there are a number of different ways to relieve muscle tension.

One of the best ways to relax your muscles is to exercise. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but muscle use increases blood flow and, accordingly, reduces the tension caused directly from lack of such blood flow. Exercise also produces endorphins which help to relieve stress and anxiety.

Heat is another method of relief. It can help by opening up blood vessels and relaxing the tense muscles. Use care when applying a hot pack. With heat, you can do too much of a good thing. Use a cloth between the pack and the skin so the heat remains measured and soothing. If you use an electrical heating pad, do not lie on the pad, but lay the pad on the tense muscles.

Water therapy can also help reduce muscle tension. Floating in a swimming pool or on a waterbed can prove to be extremely therapeutic because of the relaxing nature of wave action on the body.

Of course, a massage therapist is an expert at helping muscles relax. A truly good therapist can adapt his or her technique to your specific situation and will be skilled at gradually building up the intensity of the massage so that you’ll receive all the therapeutic benefit without losing the relaxation benefit.

Remember—it’s important to understand the underlying cause of chronic muscle tension so that it can be addressed in an effective way. Your chiropractor is specially trained to determine if the underlying cause is structural. If it is, he or she may be able to perform adjustments to correct the problem. Depending on your specific situation, your chiropractor may also recommend a treatment plan that includes several of the therapies mentioned above in order to relieve your pain and restore your mobility as quickly as possible.

How to Know if Stress is Affecting Your Health and Well-Being

How to Know if Stress is Affecting Your Health and Well-Being

depressed-women-holding-headEveryone deals with stress in their lives. And—in small doses—this can be a very good thing. Manageable amounts of stress can actually help you perform at your best and may even help you develop your abilities. However, far too many of us are stressed to the point that our health and well-being could be compromised.

Stress: Helpful or Harmful?

When you are in a dangerous situation, your body responds with a rush of chemicals. This “flight-or-fight” response leads to an increased heart rate, quicker breathing, and higher blood pressure. In a truly dangerous situation, this response helps you make fast decisions and prepares your body for quick action that could save your life. Your body is able to handle this response in small doses over short periods of time, but when your body is constantly on “high alert,” your health pays the price.

Unfortunately, your body doesn’t differentiate between a physical threat (such as being attacked by a bear) and a psychological one (such as being three months behind on your electric bill). Therefore, everyday life is filled with interactions that could trigger a stress response in certain circumstances. A car honking at you on the highway, your boss reprimanding you in front of your peers, a call from your child’s teacher, and hundreds of other common occurrences can have a very real impact on your physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being. And their effects can and do add up.

The Symptoms of Stress

Constant or repeated stressful incidents can take a heavy toll. The most insidious part of ongoing stress is that this toll is not always easy to spot. Stress levels can build up slowly, and many people become acclimated to a “new normal” without realizing that it’s happening. Knowing how to spot the symptoms of stress can help you break the cycle by either addressing the underlying causes or by finding more effective ways to deal with the stress itself.

Have you noticed any of the following symptoms?

  • Constant worrying or anxiety
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Feelings of loneliness, isolation, or depression
  • Digestive issues, such as upset stomach, diarrhea, or constipation
  • Insomnia or low energy levels
  • Chest pain or rapid heartbeat
  • Appetite changes
  • Substance abuse
  • Nervous behaviors, such as fidgeting or nail biting

These are just a few of the signs of stress overload. Consistently feeling stressed can also exacerbate other health problems, including infertility, depression, skin conditions, autoimmune disease, and heart disease. Stress may also encourage people to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as overindulging in comfort food, drinking or smoking too much, or lashing out at friends and family, which can further impact their physical and emotional well-being.

Healthy Ways to Cope With Stress

Coping with stress in a healthy and productive way can help you to manage its physical, psychological and emotional impacts. While you can’t always control the stressors in your life, you can control how you respond. By avoiding unnecessary stress, adapting to new situations, and accepting the things you can’t change, you can reduce the physical toll stress takes on your body.

Improving your overall physical health can also improve your body’s response to stress. It might be difficult to know where to start, so consider meeting with your chiropractor to learn more. Your chiropractor can help you create lifestyle strategies to leave you feeling healthier, happier, and better able to deal with life’s many stressors.

Standing More Often: A Prescription for Better Health?

Standing More Often: A Prescription for Better Health?

man-standing-next-to-wall
man-standing-next-to-wall

It seems that almost every day we see new research coming out about the perils of inactivity and sitting too much. We’re becoming a sedentary nation, and it’s taking its toll on us, causing or contributing to epidemic levels of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cardiovascular problems. So it’s interesting to look at some of the research that’s being done on the “opposite of sitting”. And no, that’s not necessarily exercising—it’s standing. Some studies are indicating that simply standing for a few more hours per day may be even better for your health than joining a gym.

While this type of conclusion may be startling at first, it’s much less shocking when you stop to consider the number of hours that we actually spend sitting each day. One recent study found that most Americans spend up to 12 hours a day sitting. If you add in the hours we spend sleeping, that means that most of us spend up to 20 hours a day being sedentary. One sad result of all this physical inactivity: Those who sit all day long live an average of two years less than those who are more active. Even regular exercise doesn’t seem to completely offset the effects of sitting all day.

So how could standing more help? Well, for one thing you burn about twice as many calories while standing as you do while sitting. For another, standing improves your circulation and tends to prevent the numerous vascular disorders linked to sitting for prolonged periods of time.

The first scientific studies linking standing more often to improved health were done in the 1950s in Britain, comparing bus drivers (who sit) with bus conductors (who stand). The resulting study, published in The Lancet, indicated that the conductors had about half the risk of developing heart disease as the drivers.

More recently, a large research project conducted in Australia as part of The 45 and Up Study examined 194,545 participants and asked them to self-evaluate their overall health and quality of life using a 5-point scale. The amount of exercise the participants got was rated using a standard scale, while the number of hours spent sitting were self-assessed. The results, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that prolonged sitting reduced muscle contractions and shut off the activity of lipoprotein lipase, which helps to turn fat into energy. As a result, there was more obesity in the inactive group, and they died earlier than their counterparts who sat fewer hours per day. Women in the study who spent more than 11 hours per day sitting had a 12% increase in all-cause premature mortality, and the sedentary group also had increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and cancer. Men in the study who spent more than five hours a day outside of work sitting were 34% more likely to develop heart failure than those who spent no more than two hours a day sitting, regardless of how much they exercised.

So the facts seem to be in. Standing more often seems to be good for you. How to achieve this is a more difficult question, because so many offices are designed around the idea of sitting at a desk most of the day. But many forward-thinking companies are either installing “standing desks” for those who ask for them or, like Google, instituting required “stand up and walk around” breaks every hour. No matter how you choose to do it (even if it’s resting your laptop on an ironing board so you can stand while you work), try to avoid sitting as much as possible for greater health and longevity.