I am well aware that I sound like everyone’s Grandma when I say, “Stop slouching, posture is important!”. But the thing is, Grandma was on to something! The more we learn about the human body, how it interacts with the world around us and how it works to keep us alive, the more integral posture becomes.
Why is it bad to slouch?
When our head drops forward and our shoulders round down and forward, this sends a feedback signal to our brain, specifically an area called the red nucleus. The red nucleus is always on the lookout for signs that you are in danger, and this slumped posture is a big red flag for it. When the red nucleus thinks you are in trouble, it rallies its friends (other nuclei that are in the mesencephalon) and makes you hypervigilant. These friends start a cascade of defence mechanisms within your body, releasing cortisol (a stress hormone), tightening muscles, increasing your sensitivity to light and sound, all so you can be aware of any impending danger and be ready to run or fight at a moments notice. Yes, your poor posture just switched on your ‘fight or flight’ response and made you stressed!
How does your poor posture make you irritable and tired?
When your fight or flight response is turned on, it makes you hypervigilant. Your brain is looking for any signal that you are about to be attacked, and your body is not worried about any basic functions like digesting food properly or keeping up your immune system, because there will be time for that once the danger is passed! It is hard to sleep, because your brain will wake you at the slightest sounds. You are sensitive to light and this can lead to headaches. So you are tired, overwhelmed and getting headaches, of course you are going to be cranky and irritable! The slouching posture can also decrease the range of movement of your ribcage while you breathe. This can mean that you take shallower breaths, which can affect the oxygenation levels in your body, making it harder for your cells to work efficiently and making you even more tired.
Why does my back hurt?
Part of the stress response we outlined above is muscles tightening. The muscles across your shoulders and up the back of your neck get very tight as part of this, and your low back can also get tight as your body has to compensate and redistribute the weight to keep you upright. A slouched posture is not a mechanically sound position for your body. It disengages some larger muscles (like lower trapezius and deep neck flexors) and puts their work onto muscles not designed to take such a big load (like smaller spinal extensor muscles, superficial neck flexors and suboccipitals). This can leave you stiff, sore and more prone to injury.
What is good posture?
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as ‘perfect posture’. There are definitely some positions to avoid, like the slumped forward posture we have talked about, but the key to good posture is… *drum roll please*…. Movement! Our bodies were not designed to sit in one position all day. Our muscles and brains thrive on movement and the feedback it provides. Taking regular breaks to move and stretch every 15-20 minutes can decrease back pain and increase your productivity. Following good ergonomic advice with your workstation set up is also a good idea, and if you are lucky enough to have a sit stand desk, varying the height so you can go between sitting and standing throughout the day. It would take far too long to write out all the ways to keep moving, so if you would like more information, have a look at our Facebook live videos this month at #SundayLiveAt8
So why is posture important? Because it can affect every system in our body, and make us tired, moody and sore if we aren’t getting it right. Make sure you check out our live videos this month, and if you have any questions please message us or talk to us during your appointment.
To learn more about the stress response, have a look at Sympathetic September (Sept 2018 in the blog archives)
While sometimes it may be tempting to do this when someone mentions gratitude, the benefits are greater than you think!
How being thankful can make your brain happier
It can seem obvious, being thankful for what you have. But it can be easy to fall into the trap of ‘I’ll be happy when…’, waiting for the stars to align and make ‘everything perfect’. In reality this very rarely happens, and we can make ourselves pretty miserable waiting for it.
Comparison is the thief of joy. If you are always looking at what others have or have achieved, it can be very hard to celebrate your own wins or be grateful for the good things in your life. The grass is not really greener on the other side!
How your brain will thank you
Being grateful can make massive changes to your life. It can help you express more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. It does this by affecting how your brain is functioning- when you express gratitude it affects your hypothalamus (where your stress response is triggered), and your ventral tegmental area (the part of your brain responsible for your reward mechanism that can produce feelings of pleasure). People who have practiced gratitude for as little as 3 months have huge changes in their brain on functional MRI in these areas and others, most to do with pleasure, positive emotion and lowered stress response.
Sometimes it can be easier to recognise what others do for you, before you can see what positives you already have. So, make a start by thinking about the people in your life that help you or do nice things for you. If you are really struggling with this, try to flip around any negatives you notice about people. Rather than picking on what they have missed or could have done better, say thank you for your effort and thanks for making my life a bit easier.
There have been studies that have shown that acting happy can actually make you happy. Smiling has the same effect on your brain whether you want to smile or not. So, you can try a little bit of ‘fake it before you make it’ to help you start.
How to be grateful
There are so many strategies that you can implement to help you show gratitude. Keep it simple and find what works for you. This shouldn’t be a hard or laborious task, so if you’re finding it difficult, start small and make it easier on yourself.
Gratitude is more than just being optimistic or looking on the bright side. It is looking at what you have worked hard for, what you have achieved, how much you have in your life. Even if you first think there is nothing, when you start to look a little deeper there is usually much more than you expect. It is easy to get caught up in the negatives, what you don’t have and what you can’t do, that it can be tricky to appreciate what you can do. Be thankful for what is in your life right now, even if it is a bit challenging, and look forward to everything coming your way in the future. Try it out, if nothing else your brain will thank you for it!
Our brain is incredible. It orchestrates our every movement, thought and deed, and through the spinal cord reaches every part of our body. So what can we do to look after our brain and keep it performing at its peak?
Why look after our brain?
Our brain is central to everything we do, it is the master controller of our bodies. There is also the issue of cognitive decline as we age, with diagnoses of dementia, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, very common in our aging population. While the jury is still out on what causes these syndromes, it makes sense to do as much as you can to look after your brain from a young age. When our brain is functioning well, it is easy for us to work, and play, at our best.
One of the most hyped ways to stave off cognitive decline is brain training apps. These puzzle apps are designed to keep your problem solving skills in use, and, in theory, keep your brain more active than it would otherwise be. However, studies into these apps have found no specific increase in brain power with these apps, in fact, smartphone use is being linked with increased inattention and shorter attention spans. So while these apps may be fun, don’t expect any big results from playing the puzzles regularly.
Variety is the spice of your brain
Whatever you do regularly is what you will be good at. If you do crosswords all the time you will find them easy but would be very challenged by a Sudoku. To keep your brain functioning at it’s best, you can challenge it in different ways. There are lots of different kinds of puzzles that can help your mental gymnastics, for some inspiration, have a look at our Facebook page this month (June 2019). But there are lots of other ways to challenge your brain. Trying a new game or sport or a new exercise. Challenging your balance or fine motor skills. Meeting new people or reading a new book. Change is the key. There will be some activities you enjoy more than others, but you never know, you could find your new passion while trying something new and different!
Nourish your brain
Like everything in your body, your brain relies on what you put in your mouth to eat. Making the effort to eat nourishing wholefoods will pay big dividends where brain health is concerned. You wouldn’t put hot chips in a car engine and expect it to run efficiently would you? Your brain and body are no different. Healthy fats like avocado, fish and nuts are beneficial for your body to make hormones that help your brain function.
Sleep it off
Sleep is also vital for brain function. We all know how hard it is to focus and concentrate after a poor nights sleep. When we sleep, our brain has a change to ‘clean’ itself and flush out any waste after our big day of thinking. It is crucial to get a good nights sleep, and you can optimise your sleep by have good ‘sleep hygiene’. A few examples of this are: Going to bed at a regular time, minimising light and screen exposure in your bedroom, allowing yourself to wind down before bed.
One surprising thing that kept coming up was the importance of social connection for brain health. When we get out and socialise, it stimulates our brain like almost nothing else. Having other people to talk to and feeling part of a community were big predictors of cognitive function into older age. So get out and meet your friends for coffee, or go for a walk together, your brain needs you to!
Physical activity and exercise are crucial to brain health and preventing cognitive decline. The more active you are, the more input your brain receives, dusting out those cobwebs and keeping everything functioning at it’s best.
Learning new things is one of the best ways to ‘train your brain’! Make it challenging, change it up, and keep it fun! It doesn’t matter if it is a mental or physical skill, just keep learning.
So, the best way to train your brain? Exercise, sleep, good food and social connection. And learning new things- have a look at our Facebook page for puzzles every day this month!
At the end of May it is spinal health week. A week to bring attention to the importance of spinal health care, especially preventative or wellness care, and the role chiropractors play in this.
Why spinal health care matters
Musculoskeletal conditions (like low back pain and neck pain) and headaches and migraine are among the top 5 most debilitating conditions worldwide, both in terms of loss of quality of life and financial impact. Back pain and headaches account for a massive amount of time taken off work, causing lower productivity and costing businesses millions of dollars each year. As well as the loss of quality of life- that is, not being able to do the activities or tasks you want to do because your pain is limiting you. Imagine not being able to work, exercise or play with your children because of the amount of pain you are experiencing, every day. And once you have had one episode of back or neck pain, even if it resolves, your chance of it recurring within a year is very high.
But all is not hopeless. There are so many gentle, non-invasive ways to help back pain that can relieve acute symptoms, prevent recurrence and maybe even prevent it occurring in the first place. Spinal health care could help.
Acute, chronic, preventative?
Most people who see a chiropractor first come in with an injury or pain of some kind. Sometimes it is a sudden, very painful incident, other times it has been building for months and not getting any better. But what about getting treated before there is a problem?
I know, weird concept right? Except that dentists have been talking to us about preventative dental care for decades. Much better to brush your teeth and floss than end up needing fillings. The same can be said for musculoskeletal conditions. A bit of preventative conditioning, movement and postural advice could prevent a whole lot of pain further down the track.
While this doesn’t necessarily mean you should visit the chiropractor, it could be a good place to start to get advice about the health of your spine and where you could make improvements.
What do chiropractors do?
Chiropractors are excellent at assessing the function of your body and nervous system. We are trained to look for ineffective postural patterns, compensations for weaknesses and assess the body holistically- that is, where you feel ‘pain’ may not be the cause of the issue. We also focus on your physical, chemical and emotional health- are you eating, moving and thinking in a way that benefits your body?
Be ready for your daily marathon
No, not an actual marathon every day. But every day, we have an enormous expectation on our body. It needs to function well, allow us to think clearly and have enough stamina to get us through the day. To do this, we need to make sure that we have done our preparation and training. Have we given our body the correct fuel it needs through our food? Have we done the mental preparations to be able to get through our day when it gets tough? Have we done the training so our body can easily do what we expect it to do without injury or strain? Do you have a good sleep routine? All these, and more, are areas of your wellbeing that need to be consistently looked after to make sure you are ready for anything life throws at you.
Spinal Health Care
Much like brushing your teeth, spinal health care is best done consistently. There are many different aspects, but here are some of the basics:
For more help getting ready for life, have a look here: https://chiropractors.asn.au/straighten-up-app
We are all getting older, there is no getting around this fact. We would all like to age gracefully and be able to enjoy our retirement years, so here are a few ways to help you get there in style, no matter what age you are.
So there is one key concept when it comes to ageing. Neuroplasticity. The ability of your brain to learn and retain new information and skills. ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is an outdated concept. Your brain is constantly learning and changing to adapt to the environment around you, no matter your age. But to make room for all this new learning and adapting, your brain needs to reduce a few things too. It is like Marie Kondo, always asking ‘Have I used this in the last few years?’ and decluttering what is no longer in use.
In your brain, these unused neural pathways have been shown to shrink in size. But never fear! These pathways can be regained, and surprisingly quickly too. Big changes can be seen in your brain within 8 weeks of starting a new activity. It is like going ice skating or rollerblading. The first time, you are holding onto the edge of the rink the entire time, maybe being co-ordinated enough to do a couple of laps on your own at the end. The next time, you are able to pick it up a lot quicker, because your brain remembers the motor patterning required to stop you falling over. The activity has been learned, but if you stop and try again a few years later, your brain has to direct attention to this pathway again and it will take a few goes to get comfortable again.
Use It or Lose It
A little cliché, but mostly true when it comes to the brain. So it is simple, use it! Whatever skill or activity you would like to do, do it. It may take a little time to get started and feel confident, but the more often you do something, the easier it becomes. The concepts you have learnt are not really ‘lost’, but the brain prioritises the things used most often. It could be brain training apps, doing the sudoku or cryptic crossword, playing chess or lawn bowls, doing Tai Chi or going to the gym. Whatever you do regularly, your brain is ready for.
So where does chiropractic fit in all this? Chiropractic has been shown to help the brain and the body talk to each other more efficiently, which could make learning new skills and motor patterns an easier process. Chiropractic adjustments have been described as ‘tuning the radio’. Back when there were analogue radios, if you didn’t have the dial in the right position, you could still hear the station, but there was a lot of static or ‘white noise’ over the top. By making sure your spine and nervous system are functioning properly, chiropractic can help your brain get correct signals from your nervous system without this ‘white noise’ garbling anything.
This can help with many aspects of life, anything from balance and co-ordination issues, falls prevention, blood pressure regulation, the list goes on. There was a study a couple of years ago that stated:
12 weeks of chiropractic care has resulted in improvements in some factors that are important for falls risk (sensory and motor function), as well as improvement in the physical component of quality of life in a group of older adult people.
If 3 months of chiropractic could reduce your risk of injury from a fall, and improve your motor function, why wouldn’t you get adjusted?
When was the last time you did something for the first time? Getting older, it is easy to say no to activities. While it is good to say no sometimes, getting out and experiencing activities is excellent for you mental and physical health. The local community has so many amazing activities and programs available, no matter your age. The Ballarat City Council is beginning a wonderful program to get more activities organised for older people, contact them for more information. If there is something you would like to try, get out and try it!
We as humans are social creatures, there is no denying it. We are hardwired to seek out community, support and friendship. Social isolation is a very real concern for older people. Especially as we get older, it can be hard to find new social connections. But trying a new activity will open these doors for you, which can improve your emotional and physical heath immensely. By joining a club there could be opportunity for social events, or you could hear about other events from your new friends.
So while no one wants to get ‘old’, there is so much you can do to maintain or even improve your physical, emotional and brain health as you age. It is never too late to start a new activity or learn a new skill, and who knows, you might find something you wish you had started years ago!
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At Ballarat and District Chiropractic we know you want to be empowered when it comes your health so we want to help you by sharing all our knowledge about Chiropractic.