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Month: January 2014

Does Posture Really Affect Breathing and Lung Capacity?

Have you ever tried to blow up a balloon while someone was sitting on it? Obviously, this would not be an easy task. If you sit down and lean over, stretching your hands toward the floor in front of your feet, your breathing is far more difficult, because the two balloons in your chest—your lungs—cannot be filled as easily with air.
What does this extreme example tell us? Quite simply, the more restrictions you place on your breathing, the harder it becomes. Leaning over squeezes your lungs, making them smaller, and decreasing your breathing volume. Shallow breathing means less oxygen into your system. Less oxygen means less energy.
A 2006 report by the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation showed some striking results based on posture. Using 70 able-bodied participants in wheelchairs, the study found that bad posture does indeed affect breathing and lung capacity. They tested slumped seating, normal seating, standing and a special posture that imitates standing spinal alignment (WO-BPS). This special posture involves tilting the bottom of a seat with lumbar support—with the spine “against the back part of the seat without ischial [sitting bone] support.”
They found that slumping produced the worst lung capacity and expiratory flow (LC-EF). No surprise there. Normal sitting was better. WO-BPS was even better—in some cases as good as standing posture in both lung capacity and flow.
Slumping in a chair produces bad results, but so can slouching or rounding your shoulders while standing. Sitting or standing straight for a few minutes after slouching most of your life is not good enough. Your muscles, tendons and ligaments become trained by constant slouching. You need to train them with an entirely new habit. You need to create a new “upright” lifestyle.

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Tips to help maintain good posture
·    Sleep on a good bed. Too soft a mattress can be bad for your back. You want the mattress to support your spine so that it’s not misshapen by poor support.
·    Normal weight. If you have excess weight, particularly across the abdomen, your body has to work harder to stay upright. A big belly weakens the stomach muscles, pulls the back muscles and makes them work extra hard to keep you erect. Left too long, this can result in back pain and even agonizing spasms. Leg lifts while laying on your back can help strengthen your stomach muscles and give your back a break.
·    Regular exercise. This not only helps to keep the weight down, but it tones your muscles and helps to keep you flexible so that correct posture is easier.
·    Keep a healthy spine. See your chiropractor regularly for spinal adjustments to address misalignments and keep your spine limber. Any pain that develops here will make it very difficult to maintain correct posture.
·    Good vision. If you have problems seeing, it might cause you to hunch over in order to see more clearly. Be sure to have your eyes checked regularly.
·    Good environment. Make certain everything fits you properly. Properly fitting clothes can help with posture—nothing too tight. Also, make certain your chair at work is at the right height. If your legs dangle, get a footrest to keep the excess pressure off your legs.

Top Foods for a Healthy Nervous System

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The health of your nervous system is vital for maintaining all your body’s functions and avoiding a range of potentially serious health problems. But if you’re not getting a sufficient amount of the nutrients needed for good nervous system health, you can experience such as numbness, nervous twitches or even muscle cramps. Fortunately, one of the easiest things you can do to help ensure a healthy nervous system is to eat the right kinds of foods.

Here’s a quick overview of several nutrients that play a key role in keeping your nervous system healthy and working the way it should.

Vitamin B1 (thiamin)

A deficiency of this vitamin can give you that pins-and-needles sensation in the toes or burning feet, especially at night. Good foods for vitamin B1 are beef liver, seafood, brewer’s yeast, beans, eggs and sunflower seeds.

Vitamin B6

Nerve cell communication suffers without this vitamin. Two key neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, depend on vitamin B6 for their production. Bananas, potatoes, and chick peas are good sources.

Vitamin B12

A shortage of this vitamin can result in tingling and numbness in the hands and feet. Clams, fish, eggs, meat and dairy products are key sources of vitamin B12.

Copper

Like vitamin B6, this mineral is essential for the production of neurotransmitters. A severe lack of copper in your diet can lead to spinal cord degeneration and a progressive failure of nerve function. Liver and oysters are the best sources. Add prunes, spinach and kale (as well as other dark, leafy green vegetables), and nuts to your diet for even more copper.

Chicken Pine Nut Stack 2

Healthy foods for good nervous system function include the following:

Spinach—In addition to containing a powerhouse stock of nutrients and vitamins, this leafy green vegetable also contains an abundance of antioxidants to boost overall health and slow down the aging of the brain and nervous system.

Whole grains—Brown rice in particular contains high levels of vitamin B6, which helps to protect against mental deterioration caused by high levels of harmful homocysteines. Whole grains also include magnesium, which is important for the health of your nervous system. Stabilized rice bran contains one of the highest levels of antioxidants of all known foods.

Cocoa—This contains a powerful antioxidant that puts the brakes on oxidative stress that can lead to Alzheimer’s and similar neurological ailments. It is also high in magnesium.

Whey—An excellent food for a naturally calming effect. Rich in L-tryptophan, which the body cannot produce, this essential amino acid is vital in the production of serotonin, an essential neurotransmitter. Low levels of serotonin can lead to depression.

Garlic—This not only includes antioxidants, but garlic can help prevent aging of the brain and prevent infections, too.

So try working more of the above foods into your weekly menus, and feel pleased that you are doing something good for the health of your nervous system!

Keys to a Healthier Commute

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Long commutes can kill you—maybe even literally. Just the act of sitting for long periods of time has been called “the new smoking”. Plus, all that time spent in a car commuting to and from work, or driving your children to and from school and extracurricular activities can rob an individual of much-needed time for other things.  Things like exercise, getting sunlight (essential for vitamin D), socializing with family and friends and preparing healthy, home-cooked meals.

One study found an unhealthy link between suburban sprawl and obesity. Though sprawl may not be causative, it likely contributes to the overall modern trend. Leigh Gallagher, an editor at Fortune magazine, wrote, “New Yorkers, perhaps the ultimate walkers, weigh six or seven pounds less on average than suburban Americans.” Having necessary services within walking distance contributes to better health. A recent UK study found that people who biked or walked to their work greatly decreased their risk for obesity and diabetes. No surprise there.

man sleeps in a car

One study in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that long driving commutes are linked “to a greater risk of depression, anxiety and social isolation, all of which can impair the quality and length of life.” Long commutes can also put a strain on relationships. One worker in Anaheim, California was only able to afford a house in Palmdale, north of Los Angeles. His 120-mile round-trip daily commute meant that he spent 8 hours on the road, Monday through Friday. His wife only had time with him on weekends. Needless to say, he didn’t have much of a life outside of work.

With these sorts of horror stories in mind, we thought we’d offer some suggestions to improve your health and overall quality of life while commuting.

·         Don’t!—Some companies allow (or even encourage) telecommuting. Even if you can work from home only one or two days a week, that could greatly improve your outlook on life.

·         Carpool—Sharing a ride will allow you to socialize while you’re stuck in traffic.

·         Stop along the way—By breaking up a long commute into shorter segments, you give yourself a chance to at least stretch and walk around. Perhaps you can even stop at a juice bar or gym to add a healthy spin to your daily activity.

·         Bicycle—If you have a safe path or bike lane between your home and work, a bicycle can give you much-needed exercise and a healthy change of pace.

·         Walk—If you live close enough, you can walk to work.

·         Public transportation—Walking to the transportation terminal or bus stop can give you a little exercise, but on the subway or bus you can get time to read a good book or to socialize and make new friends.

One interesting website (http://healthycommute.frogdesign.com) gives you suggestions for healthy things you can do along your commute route, including healthy eating and exercise. You enter your starting point and destination, or simply enter a starting point for local points of interest and the site will show your route on a map with the healthy attractions along the way.

What You Can Learn From “The Healthiest Places to Live”

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While your own genes certainly play a role, studies have consistently found that other factors (including environmental and behavioral ones) are even more important when it comes to living a long and healthy life. These factors include keeping active, maintaining a healthy diet, keeping stress levels low, remaining socially “connected” and having a positive outlook on life. With these types of things in mind, it seems obvious that having a healthy lifestyle is easier to do when you live in a place that’s supportive of your wellness goals. But what does a place like that look like? And is it possible to make your own local environment look a little bit more like that?

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Let’s start by talking about what a “Healthy Place to Live” looks like. Your first instinct might be to think about health-conscious southern California. If so, you certainly wouldn’t be alone in making this association. But you’d be wrong. You might be surprised to learn that no southern California city is even in the top 10 for healthy living while a few other areas of the state are well-represented. So if southern California isn’t a poster child for good health, which areas of the country are? 

According to a 2013 report by the American Academy of Sports Medicine (AASM), the top three healthiest places to live in the US are Minneapolis, Washington D.C. and Portland, Oregon. Rounding out the top 10 are San Francisco, Denver, Boston, Sacramento, Seattle, Hartford and San Jose. The annual AASM ranking was based on an analysis of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country. So what makes these particular cities more supportive of healthy lifestyle choices? And—just as importantly—what can we learn from them that might help improve our own situation in some small way?  

The AASM report analyzed a number of different benefits that communities provide to their residents that support the maintenance of an active, healthy lifestyle. The researchers evaluated access to health care, levels of chronic disease, preventive health behaviors (such as the percentage of people who smoke) and policies and resources that encourage physical activity. The top areas in the country had built bike trails, walking trails, had banned smoking in all public places, both indoors and out, and had low rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease. Minneapolis edged out other areas due to a drop in smoking and the improved health status of residents. And according to Forbes, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is rated as having the least stress of any major metropolitan area in the US.

Washington D.C. boasts a very large number of recreational facilities that encourage physical activity and its residents are more likely to walk or bike to work. Plus there’s easy access to farmers’ markets where residents can buy local and organic foods, including the kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables that are staple of every healthy diet.

In addition to having plenty of opportunities to keep active, such as walking and biking to work, Portland residents also have access to farmers’ markets 5 days out of every week and there is a good ratio of health care providers to the general population.

So if you’re interested in exploring what some other parts of the country have to offer in terms of a healthy lifestyle, you may want to take a closer look at some of these highly-ranked cities. Even if you wouldn’t—or couldn’t—seriously consider relocating, you can still learn something about the kinds of factors (controllable and uncontrollable) that seem to matter most when it comes to wellness. You might also take the opportunity to consider honestly which of your own lifestyle decisions are really driven by particular aspects of your local environment and how many of these would be likely to change if the environment around you were different.

If you do discover specific factors holding you back, then it may be possible to compensate for them or modify them in creative ways. In other words, it may be possible for you to modify your own environment so that it’s a little bit more supportive of your own healthy lifestyle goals. By doing this, you can turn a little bit of “armchair wellness tourism” into meaningful insights you can use.