Lower back pain can range from mildly uncomfortable to completely debilitating and is something that most adults will experience at least once in their lives. This short article is not meant to be a definitive guide top back pain and nor is it meant to replace advice from a trained medical professional but will hopefully teach you about some of the more common causes of back pain and what to do to avoid this all too common problem.
Summer is a great time for loading up your car, heading out to the countryside or to the beach, and enjoying a picnic. Sunshine, fresh air, food, family, friends – what’s not to love! Make your picnic as healthy as you can with these handy food and activity tips…
Lots of people spend the whole year getting in shape for a vacation only to blow it all while they are away! This isn’t something they do on purpose but is more likely to be the result of being away from home and not having access to their usual gym and diet.
Sitting down all day is arguably the most dangerous thing that even health and fitness-conscious people do each and every day. Long periods of sitting can significantly increase your risk of suffering many otherwise avoidable diseases including:
- Heart disease
- Poor posture
- Reduced bone mass
- Decreased functionality
In addition, sitting down all days makes some muscles in your body very tight and others stretched and weak. In general, the muscles on the back of your body lose the ability to hold you up against the forces of gravity while the muscles on the front of your body become shortened and pull you forwards. As a result, many of us look like we are sat down even when we are stood up. This can lead to poor posture, neck pain, and back pain.
Exercise IS of course beneficial but three to five hours of exercise per week (a typical average) cannot hope to undo the damage caused by sitting for 100 hours or more over the course of seven days.
One possible solution to this sitting epidemic is the standing desk…
Standing desks are, as the name implies, work stations specially designed to allow you to work while stood up. The idea is that, if sitting is so bad, standing must be better. Working at a standing desk is believed to provide several benefits…
1) reduced risk of obesity – in studies, one of the biggest difference between overweight and normal weight people was the amount of time spent seated. Those who sat the most tended to also be the most overweight. Standing engages not only the legs but the core too and this means you’ll burn more calories standing than seated. This increased calorie expenditure means there are fewer excess calories to be converted to fat and that, if you control your calorie intake, you’ll also lose fat faster.
2) Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic problems – it’s not just being overweight that’s bad for your health; a sedentary lifestyle is also a contributing factor. Even if you exercise, if you spend the vast majority of your time sat down, you run the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other metabolic problems. Working at a standing desk may reduce your risk of developing diseases commonly associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
3) Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease – when you spend long periods sat down, your circulation slows to a crawl. This means oxygenated blood does not make it to your extremities and blood vessels and even your heart can become damaged. Studies reveal that standing is much less likely to lead to cardiovascular disease. One such study dates back to the UK in the 1950s. Bus drivers were far more likely to develop heart disease than bus conductors who spent the majority of the same journey standing.
4) Reduced risk of cancer – long periods of siting statistically increase the risk of developing some cancers including breast and colon cancer. A 2011 study suggests that as many as 49,000 cases of cancer could be directly attributable to long periods of sitting. The underlying mechanism by which sitting increases cancer risk is still unclear, but scientists have found a number of biomarkers, such as C-reactive protein, that are present in higher levels in people who sit for long periods of time. These may be tied to the development of cancer.
5) All-cause mortality – the more time you spend sitting, the more likely you are to die prematurely. In contrast, people who stand and walk more tend to have longer lifespans. A 2010 Australian study, for instance, found that for each extra hour participants spent sitting daily, their overall risk of dying during the study period (seven years) increased by 11 percent. A 2012 study found that if the average American reduced his or her sitting time to three hours per day, life expectancy would climb by two years.
So, does this mean you should throw away your regular workstation and make a standing desk instead? Maybe, but maybe not…
No need to give up sitting completely
Sitting is often described as this “this generations’ smoking” but while research does support the danger of sitting and the benefits of standing more, it’s important to understand that there is more than one solution to this “sitting disease”.
For example, simply getting up and moving around for five minutes every hour can significantly reduce the dangers of prolonged sitting. And what about habitual and professional drivers – they won’t get any benefit from a standing desk!
Standing all day is hard – ask any shop or factory worker. In fact, standing all day can lead to foot problems, varicose veins, back pain and general fatigue – and you will be less inclined to exercise if you are tired all the time. Yes, you might end up sitting less and standing more but if you can’t find the energy to exercise, have you simply swapped one problem for another?
The instant standing desk option
If you do decide you’d like to try a standing desk, you can make a temporary one by simply putting your chair on your desk and your laptop on your chair. This might sound (and look) crazy but is often a viable solution so you can try working while standing and seeing if it’s for you. If this test goes well, you might then like to consider a more permanent solution – Ikea make great standing desks which are, like all their products, very competitively priced.
Be warned – going from sitting all the time to standing is not easy so you should consider alternating an hour of sitting with an hour of standing to acclimate your body to the new demands you are going to place on it. Also, prepare for an initial drop in productivity as you find the set up that works best for you.
Standing more and sitting less will do you nothing but good but you don’t need to jump on the standing desk bandwagon if you don’t want to. There are plenty of other ways to sit less and stand more, none of which require that you refurnish your office. Simply walking over to speak to colleagues face-to-face instead of emailing or phoning them is just one viable option and walking meetings is another. Standing desks might be trendy right now but there is more than one way to skin the sitting proverbial cat!
Sleep problems are all too common. Many people find getting to sleep or staying asleep difficult and struggle through their day as a result. Sleep deprivation can leave you feeling fatigued, foggy-brained, and stressed, and research also suggests that lack of sleep could shorten your lifespan.
Lack of sleep can also undermine your intentions to exercise – who feels like exercise when they are tired? – and could cause you to become reliant on caffeine and fast-acting carbs to give you energy. Needless to say, an over-reliance on coffee and sugar is not good for your health.
Despite following a healthy diet and workout plan, even the most ardent exerciser feels unwell from time to time. Regular exercisers often feel that they should be immune to illness and really struggle with taking time off when they are unwell. As a result, some exercisers actually prolong their illness by exercising when, really, they should have taken a few days off.
Whether it’s the cold weather, spending more time indoors, central heating or a lack of sunlight, there is no denying the fact that winter is usually accompanied by colds, the flu and other viruses, bugs and germs. Chances are high that, even if you eat healthily and exercise regularly, you too will fall foul of one of these nasty conditions.
Flu shots and antibiotics can help but, really, you can avoid many of these all-too-common maladies by supercharging your immune system so you are less susceptible to illness in the first place.
Being injured is no fun at all but fitness-related injuries are all too common. It’s quite ironic that something we do for our health can also hurt us; possible very seriously.
Some gym injuries as just down to bad luck; it’s just your turn to tweak your back or pull a hamstring but while the occasional injury is almost inevitable, there is a lot you can do to keep your risk of injury to the absolute minimum.
Sore knees are no laughing matter. It’s only when your knees start to break down that you realize just how important they are in everyday movements. Things you took for granted like walking up a flight of stairs or getting out of your car become harder and harder when, previously, you did them without even thinking about them.
Some knee pain is virtually unavoidable. As you age, wear and tear accumulates and results in damage to the articular surfaces inside your knees – the parts that rub together. This is called osteoarthritis. Combined with an age-related reduction in synovial fluid production, the stuff that lubricates a nourishes your joints, this wear and tear means your knees are likely to develop creaks, aches and stiffness as you get older.
Osteoporosis is an all-too-common medical condition that is characterized by fragile, porous bones that are prone to fracture. Also known as brittle bone disease, osteoporosis is most common in women but occurs in men too.
While osteoporosis can affect any bone in your body, it is most commonly found in the spine, hips and wrist. This is somewhat ironic because it is exactly these bones you will injure if you take an unexpected fall. It’s no coincidence that osteoporosis is a major contributing factor in the incidence of fractured hips. Sadly, the first time many osteoporosis sufferers are diagnosed is when they suffer a fall and subsequent fracture.