You’ve been hit over the head with the basics of healthy living time and again—get regular exercise, cut back on fatty foods, sugars and carbs, and load up on fruits and vegetables. Sound familiar?
This month our docs dig deeper into your questions to unveil some hidden hints for wellness.
Q: I have back pain but I can’t get to the gym for regular deadlifts, or afford a new mattress. What else can help?
A: In many cases back pain involves the muscles. There are a number of easy ways to manage and prevent muscle pain and injury. For starters, simply get up and move as often as you can. It might seem as though resting is the best thing when your back is aching, but it’s actually the opposite! Moving keeps the blood and nutrients flowing to the affected area, which helps reduce pain, tension and inflammation.
You can also do core- and back-strengthening exercises and stretches anytime, anywhere. Yoga and Pilates are especially good for spine health. And whenever bending over to pick things up, squat down, as opposed to the 90-degree flex—you’ll develop ab muscles without even knowing it. And when sitting, make sure you’re posture-perfect. Place your feet on the floor, with your belly slightly tucked and head positioned as if an invisible string were holding your head and neck up.
Still feeling achy? Place two tennis balls in a sock and lie back on them, with one ball on either side of the spine for a gentle massage. You can also reduce inflammation and increase blood flow to painful spots by icing 20 minutes at a time, three times a day.
Q: I always wash my hands when I visit the restroom, but what are other ways to avoid viruses around the office without becoming known to co-workers as a weird germiphobe?
A: Great start—effective hand washing (washing with warm water and suds, paying special attention to the nails, and drying completely) is one of the best ways to keep germs from spreading.
But some germs we pick up come from touching contaminated surfaces. You can reduce the risk of catching a virus from a contaminated surface by up to 90 percent by wiping down common areas such as doorknobs, the office coffeepot and copy machine with an alcohol-based wipe.
You can also use antibacterial hand gel to reduce the risk of picking up bacterial germs, such as E. coli or salmonella. But don’t overdo it: These might actually increase antibiotic resistance with overuse—plus, your co-workers would definitely notice if you whipped out the antibacterial gel after every handshake.
But really, apart from hand washing, the important thing is to have an annual flu vaccination, which is the best way to avoid contracting viruses from breathing in air particles—the most common way viruses spread.
Q: I eat smart, take a baby aspirin daily and hit the elliptical machine. But because my dad and granddad met early ends due to heart attacks, I still worry. Any advice?
A: You’re doing all the right things, but anxiety itself might be doing a number on your heart. Negative emotions change the way the brain functions, causing our bodies to pump out all sorts of inflammatory compounds.
Even if you’re not a natural-born-Buddha, there are several easy ways to get the same heart-calming results:
➨ Help someone. Some research shows a 60 percent drop in the mortality rate among those who help others.
➨ Meditate. Spend just five minutes humming om or any word or phrase that brings you a sense of calm.
➨ Take a walk. Make a point to breathe deeply as you do—even a five-minute stroll is helpful.
➨ Make friends with fats—good fats. Aim for three servings of omega-3-rich fish every week (salmon, tuna, anchovies). Olive oil, canola oil, flaxseeds, avocados and walnuts are loaded with good fats, too.
Q: I know to change the air filter regularly. What are some other top ways to create a healthier environment around the house?
A: Here are our families’ favorite ways to keep a healthy home:
Buy “clean-air” plants. Cultivate these natural air allies: philodendrons, spider plants and ivy. These green friends can help scrub harmful compounds from household air. Just one plant per 100 square feet of living space will help absorb volatile organic compounds from carpet, paint, foam insulation, household cleaners, air fresheners and cosmetics. Exposure to these toxins has been cited for causing fatigue, headaches, asthma and allergies.
Control moisture. Keep a dry home of relative humidity between 35 and 45 percent with a dehumidifier. Also, increase airflow in closed spaces by regularly opening the windows, especially in the shower and kitchen area. And repair leaks promptly so they don’t set the stage for mold.
Minimize byproducts. First and foremost, install a carbon monoxide detector—this gas is a silent killer. When using your stove or oven, always turn on the fan to vent any cooking byproducts (such as sulfur oxide or nitrogen oxide) to the outside, and never use the stove or oven to heat your home. Have your heating systems inspected, cleaned and tuned annually. And finally, never leave a car running in a garage attached to your home—carbon monoxide from the exhaust can backdraft into your home.
Keep it clean. Set aside just 10 minutes each day to clear clutter and dust, or mop dirty areas. Adopt good habits like taking off your shoes every time you enter—you’ll keep your floor clean and avoid tracking in pesticides and chemicals. Use nontoxic household cleaners such as peroxide, alcohol, baking soda and vinegar.