5 Life Hacks for a Healthier You

Appears in the February 2018 issue.

The joyfulness and chaos of the holidays have long passed and for many, it’s time to buckle down and get serious about New Year’s resolutions. The most common resolutions are staying fit and losing weight, but life often gets in the way and 80 percent of January gym memberships are canceled within five months, according to a Harris interactive online survey.

While more gym time and a healthy diet are great goals for my physical therapy patients to have, if you don’t stick to them, they aren’t helping you. So when you feel your resolutions waning, take small daily steps to strengthen muscles, improve posture and boost overall health. These minor changes can impact your life dramatically by increasing wellbeing and preventing injury.

It’s always good to set exercise goals, but it’s understandable that hectic work and life schedules can lead to unhealthy habits. Regardless of where you stand with 2018 resolutions, adding small daily steps can improve your wellbeing.

Change your sleep habits. Lack of sleep is detrimental to your health, from increased chance of depression to a weakened immune system. Poor sleeping posture and jaw clenching can decrease quality of sleep and contribute to headaches and soreness throughout the day.

To practice good sleep posture and decrease pressure on your jaw, focus on sleeping with a neutral spine. Strategically place pillows—under your knees if you sleep on your back or between your legs if you sleep on your side—to avoid putting pressure on joints and soft tissue. 

Wake up your muscles. Stretching before getting out of bed will help increase blood flow, warm up your muscles and prepare them for activity. Wake up your muscles with a lower trunk rotation stretch by lying on your back with knees bent and together, feet flat. Slowly rock the knees back and forth to loosen up your muscles for the day ahead.

Practice good posture. Posture has a huge impact on back pain, which is one of the most common reasons for needing physical therapy. Many of us sit for over eight hours per day and have the tendency to slouch while doing so. Constantly looking down at our smartphones also puts extra weight on our neck and spine, which can lead to back problems. Practice better posture with a simple exercise: Pinch your shoulder blades back behind you, as if trying to touch your elbows. Once you are back as far as you can go, hold this position for 5 seconds before relaxing. Repeat this 10 to 15 times.

Keep moving. Sitting for hours on end—good posture or not—is not ideal for our bodies. You can help counteract the negative side effects from a sedentary lifestyle, like increased risk of cardiovascular disease, by getting up and moving every 30 minutes. Keep a small cup of water at your desk and make a conscious effort to get up and refill often to help you stay hydrated while getting more steps in.

Take Deep breaths. Stay mindful of your breathing throughout the day. Instead of taking short, shallow breaths, breathe through your belly to see your abdomen rise and fall. Taking full breaths, particularly during tense situations, is a good habit to get into, as it increases the amount of oxygen you receive, which helps boost energy while reducing stress.

By Anne Bierman