Staying in the Game: How to Keep Your Back Healthy

Back pain robs workdays and keeps people on the sidelines. Learn how your back works and why certain motions can raise your risk for injuries.

Back pain is one of the most common conditions in the United States. Over the course of a lifetime, eight in 10 Americans will have at least one episode of back pain.

The problem results in over 100 million lost work days per year. And over 41 million people visited a doctor for back pain in one year.

Back injuries – common causes
Many back injuries are the result of cumulative damage. But certain motions and movements can contribute to back injuries more than others. These include:

  • Heavy lifting
  • Twisting at the waist while lifting or holding a heavy load
  • Reaching and lifting
  • Lifting or carrying objects with awkward or odd shapes
  • Working in awkward positions
  • Sitting or standing too long in one position
  • Poor posture

How the back works
A spine consists of small bones called vertebrae. They are stacked to form a column. Vertebrae are held together by ligaments, and muscles are attached to the vertebrae by tendons. A cushion, or disc, sits between each vertebra. The spinal cord runs through the column and nerves branch out through spaces between the vertebrae.

The lower back holds most of the body’s weight. Stress is placed on your back every time you bend over, lift something heavy or sit leaning forward. While standing, bending or moving, even minor problems with bones, muscles, ligaments or tendons can cause lower back pain. Discs may then irritate nerves from the spinal cord and cause pain.

Sudden back injuries can be due to a tear or strain in ligaments and muscles. Back pain may also come from injuries that break down discs or by muscles that have involuntary contractions (spasm). Stress or tension can bring on back spasms, too.

What can you do to avoid back problems?
Three practices may help avoid serious problems: Lift safely, sleep correctly and keep up with core conditioning.

Lift safely. When possible, use lift-assist devices for heavier objects. When you can’t avoid lifting, remember to reduce the amount of pressure placed on the back. Bending the knees keeps your spine in better alignment and allows legs to do the work

  • Keep feet apart for better stability and lifting power.
  • Keep your back straight so spine, back muscles and organs align right.
  • Tuck your chin to keep the neck, head and spine straight.
  • Grip an object with your whole hand for more lifting power.
  • Keep arms and elbows tucked in for more gripping power.
  • Center your body over your feet for better balance and lift.
  • Bend your legs and then lift by straightening the legs. The leg muscles will carry the load instead of your back.

Sleep better. A poor sleeping position can create back stress. The best sleeping positions are:

  • On your side with knees slightly bent
  • On your back with a pillow under knees

Conditioning. Regular exercise can improve overall fitness and lower the likelihood of back problems and injury. Exercises for strength, flexibility and aerobics are best.

Get into a daily flexibility routine and do strength training for your core muscles. The core muscles surround your midsection, support spine and torso movement, and coordinate limb motion. Strong core muscles improve posture, balance and stability. They can also reduce back and neck pain.

Yoga and Pilates classes offer good core workouts. Each uses the body as its own form of resistance. If you have trouble doing certain exercises, swimming, walking, or bike riding may be good options. Always check with your doctor before you increase your activity level.




Mini-Meals Versus Three Squares a Day

Eating small, frequent meals can take the edge off your appetite. But which is better for controlling your waistline – eating three squares a day or grazing?

Kelly was trying to lose weight, but she found herself in the employee break room every day at 4 p.m. Pretzels, chips and candy bars called to her from the vending machine, and she was usually too hungry to resist. Though she had a nutritious lunch around noon, it never seemed to carry her through until dinner.

Sure, your mom used to tell you to quit nibbling or you’d spoil your appetite. But which is better for controlling your waistline – eating three squares a day or having smaller, more frequent meals?

Actually, it depends. Many people eat three nutritious meals a day and have no trouble maintaining their weight. But studies have suggested that grazing (eating smaller amounts of food more frequently) canmake it easier to maintain or lose weight.

Eating four to six small meals each day can take the edge off your appetite. This makes it less likely you’ll binge on fast food or empty calories. And some research has shown that more frequent, smaller meals may help increase your metabolism.

Mini-meals may have health benefits, along with making it possible to fit into your blue jeans. Research has shown that this eating pattern may contribute to lower cholesterol levels and better blood sugar control. That means added protection from heart disease and type 2 diabetes – two conditions also linked to obesity.

Smart grazing tips
That being said, your mini-meal choices still have to be nutritious to count. If you are not careful, more meals can easily turn into more calories per day. In the end, total calories are going to count, no matter how many meals you eat.

If you decide to try eating mini-meals for weight control, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Keep a food diary so you can keep track of your calories. Eating more meals is not permission to overeat. After all, calories from even small snacks and meals can add up quickly.
  • Use guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help guide you on reasonable serving sizes.
  • Eat whole foods instead of processed foods. A mini-meal is just that – a smaller version of a larger meal, not an excuse to eat junk food. Go for things like a bowl of soup, a large rice cake with natural peanut butter, half a sandwich, yogurt and fruit, a hard-boiled egg and raw veggies, or whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese.
  • Plan ahead. Don’t get caught at the vending machine. Keep your kitchen or work place stocked with nutritious options.
  • Make sure your mini-meals balance out. Choose from the various food groups (meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts, grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy) to get protein, carbohydrates and a little fat.

Almost all nutritionists agree that the most successful formula for maintaining a healthy weight includes:

  • Portion control
  • Balance of calories consumed versus calories burned off
  • Exercise
  • Daily breakfast
  • Regular eating pattern (whether that means three or six times/day)
  • A healthy balance of complex carbs, lean protein and healthy fat
  • A good night’s sleep

In the end, do what you feel works best for you. A good eating plan is only as successful as the person who is able to stick with it.

Article provided by Unitedhealthcare


Heart Health

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death of Americans.
Also called coronary heart disease, heart disease involves the buildup of a waxy substance called plaque inside the blood vessels of the heart. That buildup can cause blockages that lead to heart attacks. Or over time the blockages can weaken your heart muscle and lead to heart failure or irregular heart rhythms. But the risk of these outcomes may be lowered by following your health care provider’s advice. Treating heart disease may include changing lifestyle habits, including your eating habits, taking medication, and undergoing medical procedures such as putting stents in clogged arteries. Adopting a healthy diet is an important way to help prevent or delay the impact of heart disease.
Guidelines for heart health encourage people to eat a diet that:
• Emphasizes vegetables, fruits and whole grains
• Includes low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, legumes, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts
• Limits sodium, sweets, sugary beverages and red meats

Check out the rest of this article provided to us by UnitedHealthcare:

Heart Health