Most busy people take their health for granted until eventually it’s too late to do anything about it. In the business world, health is often ‘put on the backburner’ until one day you’re told the bad news that could have life‐changing consequences. Most of us know somebody ‐ a friend or a family member – who have had serious health issues, such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, or arthritis, all of which are on the rise. We may be able in some instances to take preventative action through the lifestyles we adopt.
Think of the impact major health problems may have had on the lives of people you know and those around them. Do you want to suffer the same fate? Maybe you have been affected by one or more or the above health issues yourself. Good health involves not only your physical wellbeing but your mental wellbeing as well. So don’t gamble with your health: prevention is better than cure. Plus good health gives you more energy, allows you to be more productive and may help you become more assertive.
In this particular chapter, I want to help you understand your body, how to assess your current health status and outline ways to improve your health. The health issues discussed in this chapter are commonly associated with people who have to work in high‐pressured environments that, in turn, are exacerbated by the lifestyles they live.
Understanding your posture
I’ve been in the fitness industry for over ten years now and, throughout my learning, I’ve been hooked on helping people with their pain issues. The most common reasons why people are in pain is because of poor posture and work issues. I love helping people tackle the root causes of their pain issues, reducing the symptoms they suffer and eventually allowing them to become pain‐free. Sitting up straight at one’s desk not only projects a good impression, but also more importantly convinces you and others about your good health.
Did you know that at least 80% of people suffer from lower back pain? Adopting a good posture says a lot about you in terms of your body language, the way you communicate and the importance of opening and closing business deals. It’s all to do with how your spine sits on your pelvis. Bad posture is due to the fact that you’ve sat down for prolonged periods of time, e.g., at your own desk, in meetings or in the car. Your joints begin to stiffen up, you become rigid and you start to slouch as it becomes such an effort to sit or stand up straight. Many thousands of years of ago our ancestors had to hunt for their food in order to survive. Our bodies were not designed to sit down for long periods of time. Subconsciously we know prolonged sitting is not good for us. Our muscles are insufficiently exercised and can’t sustain a healthy posture.
So which posture type are you? The three most common postures I see in my clients are: sway back or lordosis; kyphosis (or as I like to call it the ‘ET position’); and flat back.
Lordosis is a condition that changes the spine into an exaggerated ‘S’ curve. Key characteristics include:
1.Excessive curve in the lower back
2.The pelvis is tilted under, causing the vertebras in the lower back to move closer together
3.Carrying excess abdominal fat
4.Overworked back muscles
5.Tight hip flexor (front of the hip) muscles
6.The backs of the legs (hamstrings) are tight
7.Weak core or stomach muscles
8.Carrying a ‘spare tyre’ around your mid‐section
9.Lower back pain or discomfort
Lordosis may also occur in pregnancy.
Kyphosis or ‘E.T.’ position. This condition is called the exaggerated ‘C’ curve. Key characteristics include:
1.Rounded and tense shoulders
2.Forward head position (your head sits in front of your shoulder line)
3.Neck pain and stiffness
4.Fatigue and low energy levels
6.Pain in the arms
8.Possibly a hump at the base of your neck. I call this the ‘humpback’
Or are you a flat back with a bean pole posture? Key characteristics include:
1.Flattened lower back curve
2.Sciatica (leg pain)
3.Lower back pain, especially when sitting for long periods of time
4.Possible pain in the buttocks, groin or thighs
6.Flat bottom syndrome
Understanding the position of your body will affect the position of your spine. Good alignment = good posture. When I observe a client for posture, I look at three viewpoints: anterior (front), side, and posterior (back). From the front, I’m looking to check that the position of the head, chin, sternum, middle of the pelvis and feet is all aligned. From the back, I’m looking at the base of the spine, shoulder level, pelvis position, back of the knees and foot structure. And finally the side view focuses on alignment of ear position, shoulder, middle of the elbow, pelvis, knees and feet.
Correcting your posture
There are two ways to correct your posture; through movement (functional exercise) or non‐movement, e.g. treatment with a chiropractor.
I’m going to specifically focus on the functional aspect. I believe that poor posture is down to the lifestyle that we choose to adopt and that, in most cases, injuries occur through movement. Some people experience pain just from reaching round to grab the seatbelt or leaning over the desk. Functional movement is a great way to improve flexibility, improve joint motion, decrease or eliminate pain and improve muscular strength. I use this holistic method to get fast and effective results that last. A functional movement screen should specifically look at three main joints: the hips, the foot/ankle and the thoracic spine. I regard these joints as having the biggest influence on how we move.
Throughout the assessment I look at improving basic function, i.e., walking or ‘gait’, and combining observation and experience to also improve posture. Choose your professional wisely. Ideally, they should have knowledge of biomechanics, i.e., how the body moves. A professional will train joints, not muscles!! I get a lot of requests about the ‘E.T.’ forward‐head position. You’re probably asking why I call it the ‘E.T.’ position. In the film ‘E.T.’, Elliott hides E.T. away from everyone. E.T. stretches his neck out to peak out of the wardrobe. That’s what I relate to developing the forward‐head position.
I get a lot of requests about the ‘ET’ forward‐head position. You’re probably asking why I call it the ‘ET’ position. In the film, ‘ET’, Elliott hides ‘ET’ away from everyone. ET stretches his neck out to peak out of the wardrobe. That’s what I relate to developing the forward‐head position. This tends to develop because of neck tension, weak back and poor abdominal muscles. The forward head posture then tends to create a hump at the base of the neck (cervical spine). The head is much heavier than you think; gravity pulls your head down, making the head fall forward. The head’s centre of gravity shifts forwards, increasing the muscular effort that is required.
Story: Graham is 59 years old and has an important management role; he came to see me because of lower back pain and neck tension. He was also concerned about his poor posture that led to many aches and pains. His past history revealed that most of his working life involved sitting down at the computer desk. Graham had severe cervical kyphosis, limited thoracic rotation, lateral flexion and poor thoracic extension. His medical history revealed that in past years his posture affected his sinuses and his ability to breathe correctly.
Now I know that some people will think, “Well, I’ll just take a pain killer or visit the GP and the pain will go away”. Unfortunately, this is not the case. You have to deal with the cause not the symptoms (Cohen S 2001). Here are some great tips to help you improve your posture:
1.Adjust your driving position. It’s amazing but by simply adjusting your seat position, you can have a dramatic effect on your posture, especially if you regularly drive lots of miles. Do you remember when you were learning to drive? Do you remember the driving instructor asking you never to sit too close to the wheel or too far away? If you have your face practically against the windscreen or sit leaning back, then you need to make an adjustment. The steering wheel should be at arm’s length. The seatback doesn’t have to be vertical, but in a position that supports your head. The top of the steering wheel needs to be at eye level.
2.Appraise your office environment. If you sit a lot at your desk, replace your desk with a standing desk as it has far more health benefits than sitting.
3.Move around. Your body was designed to move not for sitting. Go for a walk around the office briefly every 90 minutes to help mobilise your joints.
By making these simple adjustments, you will improve your posture. You’ll also improve your digestive process and how the body efficiently absorbs vital nutrients giving you more energy! By making these adjustments, you put less pressure on other parts of the body and strengthen the muscles that help support the joints and aid movement. You will also find that you will be generally less fatigued and more alert. You’ll feel better!
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive condition. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloatedness, diarrhoea and constipation. The causes of IBS are unknown, but it can be terribly uncomfortable and embarrassing when you want to go to the bathroom but can’t because it causes too much pain and discomfort. If you suffer from IBS, going to the toilet can feel as if you’re ‘pushing a brick’ or as if you need to run to the toilet every five minutes. Not only that, but with constipation you will be irregular and often have bloody stools. This may happen due to the fact your diet is generally poor and lacking in vital nutrients. In some cases, it may indicate that you have a food allergy such as gluten or wheat intolerance. If you are highly stressed, you tend to neglect your body. This can often lead to a disruption of normal function. Dehydration is very common for people who suffer from these common digestive issues. Drinking lots of tea and coffee doesn’t help. Research tells us that the cause of IBS is unknown. However, studies have suggested that stress and poor digestion go hand‐in‐hand.
Use this checklist to help alleviate some of your symptoms
1.Eat more dark green vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli and courgettes
2.Incorporate healthy oats, nuts and bran into your diet
3.Drink at least 1.5 to 2 litres of bottled or filtered water daily
4.Avoid fruit juices (especially the concentrated juices). The sugar content may irritate the digestive tract. Fruit juices are also calorific.
5.Incorporate probiotics into your diet. These are the healthy bacteria found in your gut that help keep your stomach health and in harmony. These can be found in products such as yogurts.
High blood pressure ‐ ‘the silent killer’
Did you know that 80% of managers and an estimated one billion people worldwide suffer from high blood pressure (hypertension)? Hypertension is responsible for an estimated 45% of deaths across the globe due to heart disease and stroke. I refer to high blood pressure as the “silent killer” as there are often no warning signs or symptoms. The causes are down to the high amounts of sodium we ingest from processed meats and foods and also to our sedentary lifestyle. Research suggests that highly pressured environments increase stress levels, which can lead to high blood pressure. Blood pressure is simply the pressure of the blood against the walls of the veins and arteries. If you suffer from high blood pressure, then you increase the chances of a heart attack or stroke or the long‐term effects of coronary heart disease (CHD). If you suffer from regular headaches, migraines, dizziness, high anxiety levels and poor sleep, then these are clear signs that you may have high blood pressure. Smoking, excessive drinking, obesity, and diabetes can also cause high blood pressure.
My advice is to get yourself checked out as a precaution. If you are thinking of embarking on an exercise programme, consult with your GP first or ask a personal trainer. Alternatively, bring in a third party provider to your organisation who can offer health services such as blood pressure checks, height/weight assessments, smoking cessation programmes, etc. Most pharmacies have automatic blood pressure monitors called sphygmomanometers available for purchase. Place the blood pressure cuff around the top part of your right arm and tighten with the provided straps (but not too tight). Turn your hand so your palm is facing upwards and relax your arm, ideally resting it on a table. Press the activation button. This should inflate the cuff and, after 30 seconds or so, it should give you a reading.
The first reading is normally the high one (systolic). This is the maximum force with which the blood flows from the heart whilst beating into the arteries. It should not read higher than 130 mmhg. The second reading (diastolic) is the force as the heart relaxes, allowing blood to flow back to the heart. This should not read higher than 90 mmhg. If it does, double check and make sure you’ve followed the procedure correctly. Ask your GP, if you need a second opinion. The best time to measure your blood pressure is first thing in the morning, ideally before you eat anything and when you are in a relatively relaxed state. If you measure your blood pressure on a regular basis, then make sure you do it at the same time each day.
Blood pressure can be improved by integrating interval training (exercise) for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes at least three times a week. An example of this could be 5 minutes of fast walking followed by 5 minutes of light jogging, then 5 minutes of steady running and repeating. Give yourself some variety so it keeps you interested and makes it more fun.
Metabolic syndrome/ insulin resistance
I can best describe metabolic syndrome as the precursor state prior to being diagnosed with type II diabetes. If you regularly consume sugary foods and drinks, it puts the pancreas under severe pressure as it is overworked. The pancreas releases insulin to balance blood sugar levels. This is to keep the body within normal homeostasis (normal body function). If you consume, for example, your favourite bar of chocolate or a ripe banana, your body will turn it into glucose. The higher the amount of glucose released, the higher the spike in blood sugar. If you have high blood sugar levels you may have lots of energy for a short period of time, whereas with low sugar you tend to have no energy and will want to fall asleep; you feel fatigued all the time. If you suffer from metabolic syndrome, then you may develop insulin resistance, meaning that the pancreas becomes less efficient in releasing insulin at the right time. You can minimise your risks of metabolic syndrome using a low glycaemic diet. We are going to explore this further in the book, together with other steps you can take for a healthy lifestyle. If you carry a ‘spare tyre’ around your mid‐section, then there is a chance that you may also be exhibiting the symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Diabetes is a life‐changing condition and, once you have it, there is no getting rid of it. It stays with you for the rest of your life.
Some of the classic symptoms of metabolic syndrome include:
1.Obesity and abdominal fat: more often or not your appearance gives this away. Your body shape is basically shaped like an ‘apple’.
2.High blood pressure: this could include dizzy spells, regular headaches, shortness of breath and blurred vision
3.High cholesterol: this is when fat clogs up your arteries. Completing a simple blood test with your GP can test for this.
4.High blood sugar levels: by t
5.Gout: if you suffer from regular gout, this is a classic sign of having raised sugar levels. Gout includes swelling, inflammation of the ankles, wrists and other joints. Gout can be very painful and uncomfortable. Tenderness, redness and pain are common.
I’m going to give you lifestyle ‘first aid’ and show you how to achieve the perfect body.
The point I’m making with regards to your health is that it should be a top priority. Think about it. Where would you be without your health? You can’t earn as much money, you can’t be as successful and you can’t be as competitive. Your health affects you, not just physically, but mentally as well.