4 Steps You Can Take Today to Relieve Lower Back Pain

Maybe you’ve just gotten home from a day at the office, or spent the day working in the yard. Either way you come inside at the end of the day and find yourself thinking, “Oh, my back!” Lower back pain is one of the most common medical problems today, affecting nearly 80% of adults at some point during their lives.

There are two classifications of back pain: acute and chronic. Acute lower back pain is short-term pain that can last from a few days to several weeks, whereas chronic lower back lasts for more than three months.

Prevent lower back pain by following these four simple steps:

Stand tall

Many people have a tendency to slouch when they are standing. Slouching causes stress on the muscles and ligaments in your back, resulting in both lower back pain and headaches among other health problems.

In order to maintain proper posture while standing, you should always remember to:

  • Keep your shoulders pulled back allowing your hands to rest by your side.
  • Align your feet with your hips, and pull your abdomen in so that it is firm.
  • Relax your knees, and balance your weight equally on both feet.

The wall test can help you get an idea of how you should be standing if you want to maintain proper posture.

Sit straight

Whether you work from home or in an office building, it is important to have a work environment that allows you to maintain proper sitting posture.

While sitting, you should have both feet on the ground while keeping your knees level with your hips. Your back should rest against the chair so you can keep your upper back and neck comfortably straight. Your shoulders should be relaxed, and your head should be stretched towards the ceiling.

For extra support, you can place a small pillow or towel behind your lower back to help maintain its natural curve.

Lift properly

Using improper techniques while lifting heavy objects is one of the most common factors contributing to the development of low back pain. When lifting heavy items, you should keep your back straight while bending at the waist with your knees close to the floor so that you use your knees instead of your back to lift the package. Hold the item as close to your body as possible. Remember to check the weight of the item first, and if it is too heavy for you to lift on your own ask for help.

Exercise often

Taking a few minutes every day to stretch and fit in a few strengthening exercises can help prevent back pain by strengthening the muscles and ligaments in your back.

When you don’t have time to make it to the gym or fit an at-home workout into your busy schedule, you can take a few minutes before you go to bed to practice some yoga moves. Yoga can help reduce muscle tension and build muscle strength, both of which can help reduce your chances of developing lower back pain.

Although lower back pain is common in most adults, maintaining proper posture and being mindful of the strain you place on your back can help prevent further injury in the future.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.

4 Simple Ways to Stay Active During the Workday

With so much of today’s business happening online, we spend a lot of time sitting at our computers. If you find yourself regularly feeling sluggish at work, sitting for extended periods of time could be the problem.

Whether you work from home or in an office, there are many ways to incorporate exercise into your workday without breaking a sweat. Try one of these four ways to get moving while working.

Stability

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three people over age 65 fall each year. This is primarily due to decreased stability as a result of aging. As we age, our muscles, ligaments and tendons become tighter, shorter and weaker resulting in decreased balance. Factors like stress can cause these signs of aging to progress more quickly.

Balance training is key to improving stability and slowing the effects of aging. If your work allows it, increase activity by adding a balance disc to your desk chair. These inflatable cushions are a discreet and effective way to strengthen your core, which improves both balance and posture. While standing, improve your stability by practicing simple heel raises and one leg balance training.

Mobility

Like stability, age also affects mobility. To combat declining mobility, a good stretch is a great place to start. Stretching during the workday, or any time you’re sitting for an extended period of time, is crucial to improving long-term mobility. At minimum, you should stretch every few hours and hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. The more often you stretch, the better.

Although all stretches are beneficial, some stretches are especially necessary depending on your profession. For more sedentary jobs, focus on stretching your hamstrings, forearms, hip flexors, neck, chest and abdomen. People with more active jobs should focus on stretching your quads, calves, upper back, lower back and seat.

The benefits of regular stretching include improved muscle conditioning, better posture, decreased muscle and joint pain and increased oxygen to the brain. To help you get started, the Mayo Clinic offers a useful guide to basic stretches.
 

Learn more about workplace wellness.*

Cardio

As an effective way to strengthen your heart, lungs and circulatory system, cardiovascular activity, or cardio, is a key component of a healthy lifestyle. Cardio exercise refers to any movement that increases your heart rate over an extended period of time. Some of the most common types of cardio include running, swimming and biking. However, there are many ways to incorporate a cardio workout into your day without leaving the office.

Cardio can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or marching in place while on a conference call—anything that gets your heart pumping. Research has shown that physical activity actually increases workplace productivity. When feasible, conduct meetings while walking outside or around the building instead of seated in a conference room. For additional motivation to get moving, use a fitness device to track activity during the workday.

Strength

Muscle strength directly affects our ability to independently perform life’s everyday activities, like lifting children or climbing stairs. Inactivity and aging are two factors that decrease muscle strength and make these everyday activities more difficult. Resistance training is a type of exercise that strengthens muscles using opposing force and is perfect for the workplace because it doesn’t require a lot of space or equipment to be effective.

In fact, many movements you make every day such as pushing, pulling, squatting and twisting require resistance. Chair dips, squats and lunges are three simple exercises that strengthen muscles using only the weight of your body. With all of these resistance exercises, you can easily increase the difficulty by increasing the number of repetitions.

 

How do you stay active during the workday? Let us know in a comment!

 

Healthy Eating in the Winter: 4 Easy Recipes to Get You Started

What is it about winter that gets you out of your healthy eating routine? Is it a jam-packed schedule of holiday parties and treats that come with the season? Or is it the cold weather that keeps you inside around all those tempting snacks in the cupboard?

Whatever the reason, there are ways to get back on track with healthy meals. For food the whole family will enjoy, add these four fruits and vegetables to your grocery list this winter.

Avocado

Although avocados may have more fat than any other fruit, their mono-unsaturated fats are actually good for you. According to the American Heart Association, the fats found in avocado can help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Avocados are also rich in magnesium and potassium, which are both known to reduce blood pressure. You can find avocado at your favorite grocery store year-round, but the Bacon Avocado is most plentiful during the winter months. Try adding avocados to chicken tacos for added nutrients in a dish the entire family can enjoy.

Broccoli

Broccoli might have a bad reputation with children across the globe, but it’s still one of the world’s healthiest vegetables. Packed with vitamins and minerals, broccoli can improve bone health and skin health, and aid in detoxifying your digestive system.

A study from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute has also revealed a link between broccoli and cancer prevention. Entice your family to indulge in this super food by pairing it with shrimp stir-fry when you’re looking for a nutritious, easy-to-make meal this winter.
 

Get more healthy winter recipes.

Carrots

Carrots have been advertised for decades as the vegetable that will help improve your eyesight. While carrots do contain a substantial amount of vitamin A, which has been linked to improving vision, the vegetable also has plenty of other health benefits.

The veggie has high concentrations of both vitamins K and C, which contribute to a healthier immune system and stronger teeth and gums. Carrots are also rich in potassium, which is said to help with anxiety, high blood pressure and stroke. The next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up some carrots to add to a veggie-packed dish such as rainbow spring rolls.

Potatoes

People who are health-conscious tend to avoid consuming potatoes because they are a starchy food with a relatively high glycemic index. However, potatoes are actually an excellent source of nearly every essential vitamin and mineral.

Research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service branch of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has found that several potato varieties are also rich in flavonoids, which help improve your overall heart health and protect against both lung and prostate cancer. The next time you find yourself craving a filling meal on a cold winter day, pick up some potatoes to make some hearty potato soup.

 

What is your favorite winter recipe? Let us know in the comments!

 

What Everyone Should Know About Seasonal Depression

Feeling down this time of year? You’re not alone. During the winter months, many people find that colder temperatures and less daylight hours have a negative effect on their mood and energy levels.

If this sounds familiar, it’s extremely important to identify the extent to which you’re experiencing these feelings in order to effectively manage and treat them. Here’s how to tell the difference between the “winter blues” Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and ongoing depression.

Winter Blues vs. SAD

The winter blues are extremely common, especially in the months following the holiday season. The return to our regular routines and the arrival of December’s credit card bill can leave us feeling stressed, unhappy and unmotivated.

People experiencing the winter blues may find themselves wanting to stay inside longer, stay in bed longer and eat more carbohydrates.

SAD is a more severe version of the winter blues. People battling SAD often experience the same symptoms as those associated with the winter blues but to a more extreme degree.

The difference between the blues and SAD is the blues will go away with the right self-care while SAD may require treatment by a medical professional. However, there are some things you can do on your own to help treat the winter blues as well as alleviate the symptoms of SAD.

Dr. Jill Amos, Principal Clinical Psychologist for BlueCare of Tennessee, has provided some tips for managing these conditions:

  • Increase light exposure. Get as much sun as possible. If the weather permits, go outside and walk with a friend. If it’s too cold, open the blinds and sit next to a window. Even on cloudy days, the exposure to natural light can still help to improve your mood.
  • Eat right. Avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar. Unhealthy choices, like cake and cookies, may provide temporary pleasure, but can have a negative effect on mood in the long run. Curb your cravings by making a dessert that uses seasonal fresh fruits, like apples or pears.
  • Stay active. If you know you struggle during the winter months, be proactive and schedule enjoyable activities with family and friends. Invite a loved one to go on a hike or volunteer with you for an afternoon.

If you notice a friend or family member is exhibiting signs of the winter blues or SAD, Dr. Amos suggests setting aside one-on-one time with them to discuss how they are doing and, if necessary, offering to join them to talk with a doctor or therapist.
 

Learn more about managing health conditions.*

Depression

Unlike the winter blues and SAD, the symptoms of depression are not limited to a specific time of year. An individual suffering from depression will likely experience many of the symptoms associated with the winter blues and SAD, but during the spring, summer and fall months as well.

Other signs of depression include unexplained aches or pains, decreased productivity, alcohol or drug abuse and an overall loss of interest in daily life.

Not all depression is the same. The severity and duration of symptoms can vary depending on the type of depression as well as the person’s age and gender. Seek the advice of a medical professional if you believe that you or someone you know is suffering from depression.

Everyone has bad days, and feeling sad from time to time is a normal part of life. By knowing how to identify the type of sadness you’re experiencing, you’ll be able to determine your best treatment options and be on your way to a happier and healthier you.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.

Why It’s Important to Have Self Compassion

At the end of each year it’s a custom to make resolutions to improve one or more aspects of your life. Some people vow to lose weight, others promise that they’ll save more money—yet somehow after two or three months you find you have succumbed to your old habits.

Maybe you’ve faltered from your goals due to stress, or perhaps you’ve found that your goal doesn’t fit your lifestyle. Instead of beating yourself up, why not replace that frustration with compassion and make 2016 the year for being nicer to yourself?

Self-Compassion

How do you react to failure? Do you keep a positive outlook as you focus on what you can do to make improvements in the future? Or do you become discouraged as you dwell on your shortcomings? Studies have shown the mindset that you have toward yourself can actually affect your overall health.

The concept of “self-compassion” means you are able to accept failure and inadequacy with kindness and understanding. A series of studies conducted by leaders in the field of psychology examined the relationship between self-compassion and overall health.

These studies revealed people who treat themselves with self-compassion tend to have a better state of both mental and physical health. These same studies found that self-compassion can help decrease the long-term effects of stress.

Mindfulness

Being kind to yourself also requires taking a balanced approach to your life and learning to channel your emotions. Mindfulness is your ability to accept your feelings and thoughts about your life experiences.

In this case, it would mean accepting your failure to achieve your established goal and using your emotions to encourage yourself instead of becoming overwhelmed with stress and disappointment.

Aside from the positive effects mindfulness can have on your emotional health, the practice has also been linked to several physical health benefits.

Scientists from Brown University recently published a study concluding that highly mindful people tend to have a better understanding of their emotions, thoughts and sensations, which gives them a greater sense of control over the health choices they make. Similarly, the researchers observed that mindful people tend to have healthier hearts and a reduced risk of obesity.

Whether or not you’re still committed to your New Year’s resolutions, it’s never too late to change the way you look at yourself. After all, being kind to yourself through self-compassion and mindfulness can only help you achieve all of your other goals in 2016.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.

7 Mouthwatering Recipes for Healthier Comfort Food

On a cold winter’s night, there’s nothing better than cozying up with a warm blanket, a good movie and a hearty helping of your favorite comfort food. Be it a bowl of creamy macaroni and cheese or a steamy serving of chicken pot pie, these satisfying dishes are good for your soul, but not so good for your waistline.

With a few simple ingredient swaps, you can make lighter versions of your favorite foods without compromising on flavor. Here are five comfort food favorites that will warm you up without weighing you down.

Macaroni and Cheese

Nothing compares to the warm, gooey goodness that is macaroni and cheese. A favorite of children and adults alike, this delicious dish will please even the pickiest of eaters.

With ingredients like butter, cream, noodles and cheese, the only thing not to love about macaroni and cheese is its high calorie and fat content. However, you can still enjoy this savory meal without placing your health on the backburner.

This simple recipe uses healthier ingredients like quinoa and butternut squash. If you’re looking for a way to lighten your favorite boxed recipe, swap the butter and milk for half of a cup of Greek yogurt. This will decrease fat and increase protein. Throw in some yummy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, tomatoes or kale for even more nutritional value.

Chicken Pot Pie

With its golden crust, tender chunks of chicken and warm filling, chicken pot pie has all the makings of a classic comfort food. Although delicious, a store-bought pie can have upwards of 700 calories in a single serving.

With a few modifications, you can still enjoy all the savory flavor of chicken pot pie without significant damage to your diet. For a healthier pie that saves both calories and time, try these mini chicken pot pies. This recipe uses filo dough instead of a traditional, homemade crust to cut prep time and calories in half. Additionally, using muffin tins to make the pies smaller, making it much easier to control portion sizes.

Chili

Thanks to the invention of the slow cooker, even the least experienced chef can easily make a batch of chili. An incredibly versatile dish, chili recipes can be tailored to please any palate.

For a lighter alternative to traditional ground beef chili, try this healthy turkey chili recipe. The lean ground turkey combined with a variety of vegetables makes for a healthy and flavorful dish that’s high in protein and low in fat.

For a delicious and nutritious vegetable chili, try this sweet potato and black bean quinoa chili. To top it all off, replace sour cream with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt for double the protein and half the fat.
 

Learn more about healthy eating.*

Pasta

High in carbohydrates and low in nutritional value, pasta is hardly considered a healthy food. Luckily, there are replacements for this favorite food. Ever heard of the zoodle?

A combination between the words “zucchini” and “noodle”, these thinly sliced strips of zucchini are becoming increasingly popular as a healthy alternative to pasta. In addition to zucchini, many vegetables like squash, eggplant and carrots can also be used as noodle substitutes to decrease calories, fat and carbohydrates in your favorite dishes. Try this easy recipe for “zusketti,” spaghetti made with zoodles, to get started.

For all the flavor of traditional lasagna without the noodles, try this low-carb zucchini lasagna from Slender Kitchen. For a lighter take on classic fettuccine Alfredo, simply use vegetable noodles instead of pasta and top with your favorite Alfredo sauce.

Brownies

For those of us with a serious sweet tooth, comfort food often means dessert. And there’s no better dessert to combat a cold winter’s night than a warm, fudgy brownie.

This gluten-free brownie recipe from the Minimalist Baker uses black beans to achieve the perfect gooey consistency without the flour, oil or eggs.

To lighten boxed brownies, Prevention suggests replacing oil with healthier alternatives like canned pumpkin, applesauce or even avocado. These simple ingredient swaps will save calories so you don’t have to feel guilty about going back for seconds… or thirds.

 

What’s your favorite comfort food recipe? Got any tricks to make it healthier? Comment to tell us!

 

5 Winning Recipes for the Final Game

Football season is coming to a close, and part of the fun is having parties with your fellow fans while the action kicks off. Although football is often known for its classic, but less-than-healthy snacks, it’s worth trying nutritious options that still make for satisfying treats.

Here are some healthy recipes that are sure to score big with your friends and family.

Roasted Chicken

Fried chicken may be a typical tailgating food, but the dish is often loaded with fat. Instead, steer clear with baked or roasted chicken, which can be just as tasty when prepared creatively.

Simply bake boneless chicken pieces in the oven, seasoned with your favorite spices like rosemary, basil or sage. Add dashes of unrefined sea salt and ground black pepper. Right after you take the chicken out of the oven, drizzle it with olive oil. You can serve this cold, too, making it an ideal on-the-go dish for tailgating.

Grass-fed Burgers 

Burgers made with conventional ground beef tend to be fattening and contain unhealthy hormones. Two healthier options, grass-fed beef and turkey burgers, are just as appealing and much better for you.

Mix grass-fed ground beef in a bowl with finely chopped onions and garlic — plus unrefined sea salt and black pepper — and grill or bake to your liking. For turkey burgers, mix ground turkey with chopped onions, lemon juice and thyme for a refreshing, light entree.

Whipped Guacamole

Processed cheese dip might be a tailgating staple, but with a little effort, you can whip up a much healthier alterative made with yogurt, sour cream or avocado.

A simple guacamole can include mashed avocado, finely chopped red onion and tomato, lime juice, unrefined sea salt and ground black pepper. Serve it with chunks and slices of raw, fresh vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, celery and carrots.
 

Learn more about healthy eating.*

Sweet Potato Chips

Potato chips may be convenient, but there’s a better option in the produce section. Make your own homemade sweet potato chips as a delicious alternative.

Wash and thinly slice sweet potatoes, and place each slice on a baking dish. Drizzle with unrefined coconut oil and a dash of unrefined sea salt. Bake your chips in the oven — checking and turning them occasionally — while avoiding the high heat that, according to Shape, cooks the nutrients out of many store bought brands.

Desserts

Tailgating wouldn’t be complete without a dessert. Store-bought cookies tend to be loaded with sugar, fat, additives and similar ingredients that can sabotage your health goals. Instead, make your own. Ingredients like almond flour, unrefined coconut oil, cacao and honey can help you create a dish that tastes just as good as conventional desserts.

Getting creative with your tailgating menu means you can have fun and be healthy at the same time. Fill up with plenty of nutritious food with these healthy tailgating recipes, and you’ll have more than energy to cheer your team through overtime.

Share your healthy tailgating recipes in the comments.

Judy Wilson is a writer and editor specializing in varied content areas, including health, wellness, food, cooking and nutrition. She enjoys educating others and enabling them to lead fulfilling lives of vibrant health. You can follow Judy on Twitter @EvergreenWords.