In a Slump?

by Sherry Steinman

It’s quite likely that many of you at this moment are in a slump. I’m referring to the posture kind of slump – we’ll have to deal with any social or financial slumps in another column!

Since slumping is unhealthy, unattractive, and nearly unavoidable at least once in a while, here’s a little information to help set you on the straight and tall path.

Think Tall

Whether you’re on your feet working all day or facing a computer monitor several hours per day, standing and sitting with upright yet relaxed posture is a choice you make – or fail to make – every minute of your life. Body Alert! Right now, as I am typing this, I inadvertently have slumped back down from my original square-shouldered position just minutes a go! It’s so easy to do.

Whether consciously controlled or not, your sitting position creates its own momentum. If gravity gets a grip on your tilted head or drooping shoulders, your whole body starts to feel like a slow wave moving downhill. A little innocent slouching gradually becomes slumping, and the unhealthy posture takes over your body.

How you sit and stand has major consequences for the health of your spine and back. It makes scientific sense when you realize that slouching or hunching over in your chair creates ten to fifteen times as much pressure on your lower back than as does sitting up straight!  Why?  Because the architecture for your back was designed with optimal posture alignment in mind.  The engineering goes woefully out of whack when it’s not in correct alignment from the top down.

In addition, when you’re slumped in your seat, your breathing is restricted and your circulation is impeded. Not to mention what happens to your digestion and related elimination processes!  It’s all rather disturbing, so you may as well concentrate on sitting and standing tall until it becomes your habit.

Five Second Head Lift

Great posture begins with your head and neck position, which strongly affects the placement of our shoulders, chest, neck, and back. Body Alert! I just noticed my shoulders have rounded and I have almost started slumping again!

OK — back to the spine. At the crest of your spine is a small muscle called the rectus capitus anterior. It flexes and rotates your head and is an often-overlooked key to maintaining good neck positioning and, therefore, good overall posture – since everything’s connected.

One of the simplest ways to tone this muscle is with a gentle ‘head nod’ exercise. Start in a comfortable sitting or standing position and place your hands on the base of your skull just behind and above your earlobes. Let your neck lengthen, gently extending upward, as if it’s being lifted by an imaginary cord attached to the top of your head. With your neck in this slightly-elevated position, nod your head as if in agreement and bring your forehead a little forward with your chin slightly tucked in. Repeat this nodding motion a few times each day to strengthen this area.

TIP: Use a pillow behind your lower back in your chair or car. See if it helps to support your improved posture all the way up your back.

Now you’re on your way to a stronger back and better posture. The rest of your body will thank you!

Sleep: Part of the Fitness Equation

Is it possible to sleep your way to fitness?

No.

Now, that was a short article, wasn’t it?

Of course sleep is an important part of the overall fitness equation, and it works right in there with exercise; eating healthfully; and, drinking plenty of water. Not to mention the usual reminders about not smoking; not doing drugs; and, not drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

So, how does sleep fit in? Like a comfy pillow! Sleep works to refresh your body and mind, and keep the two in balance.

Open 24 Hours?

In our fast-paced society, we often feel we are missing something if we don’t stay up that extra hour to watch a TV program, finish a book, fold the laundry, and so on. It is tempting to cheat on sleep occasionally, but to make it a habit eventually wreaks havoc on your brain and body.

Your body is not a carry-out shop! Make sure it is not open 24 hours a day.

Sleep is a necessary part of the natural rhythm of life. Through sleep, the body and brain recharge, and in fact, your brain does a little housecleaning – shoring up connections, and retreating from the demands of waking life. Although some people may be able to fudge along on less sleep than average, they still need their personal quota – at least seven hours is recommended for a fairly active adult.

A person’s individual pattern of sleep may be disrupted temporarily for a variety of reasons. Stress, illness, and a change in work schedule are three common reasons. Such disruptions can cause a short-term or long-term sleep disorder that throws your body and brain out of synch.

Sleep Disorders

Almost everyone can have a sleep disorder at one time or another. This can range from common snoring to more significant disorders. It has been said that the effects of chronic sleepiness on life quality are as great as conditions such as arthritis and seizures!

One expert on sleep disorders states that we are, “Awash in a sea of ignorance about the importance of sleep.” It has been shown that sleep loss impacts every facet of today’s workplace – from attendance, to productivity, to quality. And since we have learned that lack of sleep leads to cognitive short-circuiting and poor judgement, it is clear that a sleep-deprived employee is unfit for a day of work.

Common sleep disorders include sleep apnea (extended breathing during sleep), insomnia (difficulty falling asleep even when tired) and narcolepsy (opposite of insomnia, it is the inability to stay awake). Those who are unable to follow a regular sleep schedule are most affected by these conditions.

Restless Legs and Mental Health

Other sleep-robbing possibilities include teeth-grinding , sleep-walking, and jet lag. They all take their toll on healthy sleep patterns, as does one of the most descriptively-named sleep disorders, “restless legs syndrome.”

It seems that when one has this problem, the person has trouble sleeping well because they constantly feel the need to move their legs. It is largely involuntary for many. As a result, their sleep quality is poor, and sufferers feel tired during waking hours. (This would also be a problem for anyone sleeping in the same bed!)

Lack of sleep affects people in many ways, ranging from mild irritability to clinical depression. In fact, mental health and sleep are closely related.  Professional treatment for sleep disorders is increasingly available, and there is a growing body of knowledge on the subject.  The need for treatment must first be recognized, and then a host of life variables can be investigated.

The library has many books and other resources on the subject of sleep!

Tips and Tricks

Just how much sleep is necessary for good health? Some people can get by nicely with five or six hours nightly, while others need ten. The average requirement is seven to eight hours, according to the experts.

Some say that if you need an alarm clock to wake you, you’re not finished sleeping. It’s just as if you were pulled away from the table before you were finished eating.  Very unsatisfying!

As our knowledge of sleep increases, and treatment for disorders improves, today’s unsatisfied sleepers will have a better promise of sweet dreams. A few reminders to improve your chances of enjoying quality sleep follow:

  • Get up at the same time every day;
  • Go to bed only when sleepy;
  • Exercise regularly;
  • Maintain a regular schedule;
  • Avoid caffeine within four hours of bedtime;
  • Create a restful sleep area (no TV in the area is a good start);
  • Think of something pleasant (do not try to solve all your problems when your eyes close!)

Sweet dreams.

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It’s Only Fitting

It’s only fitting when it’s not tight. That’s right. If you were less active this past year than planned, you may find that – seemingly overnight – your pants are tight and your shirts don’t button right.  Don’t sigh and surrender – put up a fight!

As a new year begins, think back to how last year’s fitness plans may have gone awry, and what new things you can try.  Did you vow to swim laps several times a week at the YMCA pool, but ended up only paddling around a few times a month? Did you buy a new bike rack and gear, and then drive right by the bike trails on the way to the ice cream stand? And about that walking plan … how long did that last? Let’s take steps now to see that it happens in 2017.

Glide and Button

It’s only fitting to re-evaluate today what you can do to glide back into those pants and easily button up those shirts again, come spring. Last year may have been a little too long on Chocolate Surprise and a little short on exercise.  If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone.  Take action!  Call a similarly well-meaning friend, and get started on a new plan of action together.

Winter classes at local fitness centers all over Licking County are gearing up now for winter sessions, and featuring New Year packages – just to lure you into fitness. Be lured!  Call and ask for a tour, and see which place fits your fitness objectives.  Then, spend some money on yourself and pledge to make it a worthwhile investment.

If you’re not into the fitness center concept, check out a small class at a church or school. Some of these are good, but be sure to ask if the instructor has fitness training certification, and if not – keep looking!  Untrained instructors may, unknowingly, do more harm than good.  The key is to find something or someone to help motivate you to get your choice of exercise regularly.

How Often? What Kind?

Regularly is at least three times per week, and it doesn’t have to be all the same thing. In fact, it’s good to mix it up a bit. Two long walks and one basic strength workout at home or in an organized class setting will do for starters. There are also many gadgets and programs that can track your steps and your calorie burn/ exertion rate – some of which are available on SmartPhone apps.

Consider ‘interval training’ as an option. It might sound kind of intimidating, but the concept really isn’t.  Interval training simply means that you vary the levels of activity and intensity within a workout to accommodate aerobic and strength activities, working harder off and on.

As always, before beginning any new activity, check with your health care professional and be sure you have a physical check-up if you are older than 50 years old and haven’t had one for more than two years. In addition, there are many good fitness resources including books and DVDs to be found at the local public library. After all, it’s only fitting to do this right if you’re going to do it at all!

You are going to do it, now aren’t you?”

-Sherry Steinman

 

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