Exercise: a little bit is definitely enough

WalkingGovernment guidelines tell us we must take at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. To someone whose busy work life and family commitments prevent them from coming close to that, it’s nothing short of demotivating. Often people feel like giving up before they’ve even started.

Whenever we speak to people who feel like this we say, make small changes to your daily levels of activity. Even little steps can lead to much bigger health benefits: taking the stairs, occasionally going for a short walk after lunch, swimming once a week.

We know that a lack of physical activity is one of the biggest public health problems of our time. Inactive lifestyles have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and also osteoporosis. Being sedentary isn’t great for your cholesterol levels either.

We enjoyed reading this BBC News article about how unachievable government targets for exercise are putting us off taking it up altogether. It goes on to list some of the health benefits exercise brings. It claims that activity can be “more powerful than drugs” for certain conditions. The author also estimates that three hours on your feet each day can lengthen your life by around two years. Who doesn’t want to have more time to be around for their loved ones?

And this great article on Everyday Health lists the many benefits of being active. These include strengthening bones and making joints more flexible. There’s the positive effect of increased activity on stress and anxiety and boosting our mood. The nervous system functions better when we move more. Exercise, even a little, boosts the immune system too.

Being active isn’t just about spending hours in the gym each week, slogging it out in the squash court or jumping about to the latest fashionable dance-aerobics regime every other day. What’s important for our health is being as active as we can – even if that’s just a little bit here and there in small ways that fit around everything else we already have to get done each day.

At Good Health Centre we regularly see patients who know they’d benefit from taking more exercise but can’t commit a chunk of their evening several times a week. We encourage them to take small steps towards becoming more active.

Take the woman in her 50s who we suggested park her car further away from her workplace. OK so she now has to set off for work a little earlier in a morning, but the extra 15 minutes of walking she does each day adds up over the week and is contributing to her health and wellbeing.

Or the retired grandmother who’s started taking her toddler grandson swimming once a week. She gets to spend some quality time with him as she moves about constantly in a pool where the water resistance makes her muscles work that bit harder.

A younger man in his 30s has been inspired to remove the kettle from his office. Why? Because now if he wants a coffee, he has to walk down a flight of stairs to use a communal kitchen.

It’s all about keeping active, a bit at a time. To borrow a phrase from that well known supermarket, every little helps.

If you work in a sedentary job, read our tips for building more activity into your day.

In a sedentary job? Our tips for building more activity into your day

We know too much sitting is bad for us. No newsflash there. But did you know that inactivity is the fourth biggest killer of adults in the UK?

Sitting for several hours a day isn’t just bad for our spinal health. Low levels of activity affect our blood pressure and our metabolism, changing how the body breaks down fat. It increases our risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes too.

What’s more, a poor sitting posture takes its toll on the back, increasing pressure in the lumbar region of the spine as it supports the weight of the upper body. The pain comes from stretching the back disc wall: as the lumbar vertebrae pinch together at the front, they force the liquid nucleus towards the back of the disc. This pressurises the sensitive outer ligamentous layers at the back, causing pain in the lower back.

With the average Brit spending 50% to 70% of their day sitting – whether at a desk, watching television or driving – it’s a problem of epidemic proportions. Even if you exercise in your free time – heading straight to the gym after work or spending your weekends walking or cycling – you’re still at risk of developing health problems, all because of the time you spend on your behind.

If you work in a sedentary job – sitting at an office desk or behind a steering wheel all day, and in front of the TV in the evenings – there are lots of small ways you can increase your activity.

Here are our top 10 tips:

  1. Break away from the meeting room and have standing or even walking meetings
  2. Get up and walk to speak to your colleagues in other offices rather than using the phone
  3. Go for a walk on your lunch break – it can reenergise you and increase your afternoon productivity too
  4. Take regular breaks from your desk: it’s believed that standing up regularly – as often as every 30 minutes – during your working day can be as effective as taking a walk
  5. Rearrange your office so that you have to get up and move around every now and again, for example by moving the printer further away from your desk
  6. Stand up to take phone calls
  7. Try a standing work station instead of the traditional desk and chair
  8. Park your car further away from your workplace to force yourself to increase your activity
  9. Consider wearing a pedometer – seeing how many steps you take each day can motivate you to do more
  10. Stash a yoga mat under your desk to stretch out your back on your lunch breaks, or invest in an under the desk pedal exerciser.

And if you do spend your work days sitting at a computer, here’s our advice on arranging your work station and sitting correctly to avoid back and neck pain.

Our osteopaths see many patients who lead sedentary lifestyles. They help to ease their pain and discomfort using manual techniques, without the use of drugs or surgery. Click to find out more about our osteopathy treatments.

Could ‘text neck’ be the cause of your pain?

textingUsing a mobile phone or tablet is an everyday activity for most people – with over 35 million smartphone users in the UK and a prediction that half of us will regularly use tablets by the end of 2015. But for many it’s a pain in the neck – literally.

‘Text Neck’ is the name for the Repetitive Strain Injury caused by staring at a mobile device for hours a day. As we bend our heads forward to stare at our mobile screens, the load of the head on the cervical spine increases. The average human head weighs 8 to 10lbs, but as our head tilts forward 60 degrees the load can feel as heavy as 60lbs. This graphic on The Guardian website highlights this increasing load on the spine.

The increased load and poor posture can cause back and neck pain. It puts the spine under stress by stretching the whole structure of the back. This can cause a weakness in the ligaments and may even lead to bulging discs and nerve compression. In short, it leads to early wear and tear on the spine, and there’s a real concern that it could lead to younger and younger people needing spinal care – and, in extreme cases, surgery.

Here’s our advice for dealing with text neck:

  • When using a mobile device, try not to have a hunched posture. Keep the spine in a neutral position and have your eyes look down at your device rather than tilting your whole head forward.
  • Try to spend less time on your mobile device – where possible, wait until you get home and use a desktop PC instead.
  • Make phone calls instead of sending emails, texts or instant messages.
  • Regularly use neck exercises to stretch the ligaments in the neck and back – see below.
  • Try yoga or pilates that each have an emphasis on achieving and maintaining good posture.

Try these exercises daily to help alleviate your ‘text neck’ symptoms:

  • Let your head fall to one side, ear to shoulder. Feel the stretch in the neck muscles. You can increase the stretch by gently pulling on the head with your hand. Hold for 10 seconds on each side.
  • Twist your head to look over your shoulder as far as you comfortably can and hold for three seconds. Repeat on the other side.

And remember: our osteopaths offer free spinal health checks to assess your back pain problem and identify the cause. If you think you’d benefit from one of these free 15 minute appointments, book yours now.