Pregnancy Related Back Pain: Real Solutions

This is the most amazing thing to happen to you!  Congratulations!  Few things will change your life more than having a child.  It’s a joyful time for you, filled with anxious excitement and planning.   While you relish this 9 months and the anticipation of your baby, there was one thing you weren’t planing on: pregnancy back pain!  Ugh!

Pregnancy related back pain is an extremely common complication of pregnancy. Some estimates place as many as 61% of women as experiencing low back pain while carrying their child.  That being said, there are many practical conservative solutions to the stress on the low back that occurs while pregnant.

So, why does a woman develop low back pain? Well there is the obvious answer that with added weight, comes added pressure on the joints. True, the average woman, in a healthy pregnancy, gains 25-35 pounds on average. However, there is more the back pain it than a simply weight gain.

Many women describe pregnancy related low back pain as back pressure, pain across the back, or pain in the hips. Additionally, they may report achiness, stabbing, burning, or instability in the low back.   Regardless of the description, the causes of pregnancy related low back pain are many and include:

  1. Increased weight gain – as your body increases in weight, increased stress is applied to the joints. Gaining the typical 25-35 pounds in a period of 9 months is a relative rapid weight gain, and change your body may have difficulty adapting to. Generally, the impact of weight gain will be affected by general health going into the pregnancy and other factors such as core strength and exercise levels. While healthy weight gain should not generally be discouraged, there are ways to get the body to adapt better to the increased weight, minimizing stress to the joints and maintaining full function of the back through the duration of your pregnancy.
  2. Changes in weight bearing – Generally, most of the weight gain during pregnancy is in the stomach causing the center of gravity to shift forward. While non-pregnant individuals will generally have a center of gravity that is somewhere over the mid-pelvis, pregnancy causes trunk weight to shift forward. This forward weight bearing can cause an increase in the curvature of the low back leading to cramping as the back muscles struggle to support the weight of the abdomen. Additionally, forward weight bearing stress the sacroiliac joints, those tailbone joints that work with the pelvis, to cause sacroiliitis.
  3. Changes in hormones – As your body approaches its due date, your body will start to produce hormones which will increase flexibility. While the hormones do allow for increased motion in the pelvis to allow for birthing, they also make it more difficult for the pelvis and low back to stay in proper alignment, leading to increased instability and pain. Pain may come and go as the pelvis and low back shift and move more easily, resulting in low back irritation and pain.

So, you have low back pain from your pregnancy, what can you do? There are a lot of conservative interventions available to help your deal with your back pain. Some can be accomplished on your own, others require the help and intervention of others. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Weight bearing exercise – A moderate amount of walking will help keep postural muscles strong and improve circulation to affected tissues. Additionally, walking will help improve motion in the pelvis which should, in turn, decrease the likelihood of joint instability, asymmetry, and misalignment of the pelvis.
  2. Stretching – Later in pregnancy, your body does produce hormones that increase joint flexibility and make birthing possible. However the degree to which flexibility improves often depends on pre-pregnancy range of motion. It’s been my experience that many women have developed such muscle tightness before pregnancy that the relaxing hormones can’t even get those individuals to normal ranges of motion. Your body is designed to have a certain level of flexibility that we lose due to life circumstances. Maintaining and improving that flexibility will help decrease the stress on your low back and pelvis. Often, stretching areas you would not associate with your back can even help, such as hamstrings, upper back, and hips. Sitting on an exercise ball and rolling the hips or laying on your back and using the ball to roll the hips back and forth are great exercises for improving your back pain. There are also yoga programs for pregnancy that are available. True, you may not be able to do every pose, but working on your range of motion is generally a good idea.
  3. Improved diet – Of, course, it should go without saying that you should be eating well during your pregnancy, and I’m not talking about volume but quality. After all, you are eating for two now. You should be eating whole foods free of artificial ingredients. Not only will you be healthier for it but your baby will thank you. Improved nutrition will increase nutrient supply for the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the back. Good food will decrease the likelihood of muscle spasms due to nutritional deficiency.   Avoid excessive carbs/sugars because they can be pro-inflammatory and contribute to inflammation in the joints. Also, watch your water intake. Dehydration can also lead to muscle spasming and soreness in the soft tissues. Finally, a whole food pre-natal vitamin should be part of any regimen to help fill the holes in your diet, not to mention prevent possible birth defects.
  4. Stress management – Mental stress causes physical distress. True, your low back pain is most likely due to the physiologic changes you’re experiencing with your pregnancy but mental stress can take a physical problem and make it that much worse. Pregnancy in and of itself can be a trying time mentally, especially for single or first time mothers. Finding an outlet or your stress, such as exercise or even counseling will help your body adapt better.
  5. Improve your body positioning – Being conscious of your posture and taking active steps to alleviate the stresses on your back may improve your pain symptoms. This may include everything from sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs to using pillows to support the back and legs while you’re sitting. Back supports may also help.   Avoid standing or sitting in one position for too long and try to get moving as much as possible.
  6. Massage Therapy – Because much of the pain experienced during pregnancy is due to tension and stress on the muscles, soft tissue mobilization may help alleviate a portion of the pain. Massage therapy will help relax tightened muscles, improve circulation to the tissues, and promote a general sense of well-being.
  7. Heat or ice – While many sources will include hot baths for relieving pain, I will generally discourage that for my patients. In fact, many physiotherapy resources discourage the application of heat over the abdomen as a contraindication during pregnancy. I generally tell patients to use a regional warm pack over the back for no more than 15-20 minutes. It can be repeated but allow about an hour or so for re-application. I want the patient to avoid increasing their resting metabolize temperature and the goal isn’t to cook the tissues. A warm pack can often provide just as much effect as a hot pack, with less risk. A microwaveable heat pack or hot water bottle will generally suffice to ease tension in the low back without the danger of overheating the area. As a general rule, avoid placing heat or ice over the abdomen while you’re pregnant.
  8. Kinesiotaping – This is an athletic taping technique that has been gaining popularity in recent years. Kinesiotape is being increasingly used by professional and amateur athletes to help alleviate pain and improve tissue healing. It’s safe to use during pregnancy because it does not use any drugs and is strictly a cloth tape with a skin adhesive.  In fact, there are specific taping regimens for pregnancy, to not only alleviate low back pain, but possible abdominal pain associated with carrying your baby. To be effective, though, the tape should be applied by an individual with training and experience in kinesiotaping. There is a certain art form to its application. It can, however, offer notable decrease in pain and improved stability in the back, hips, and abdomen.
  9. Proper spinal alignment – Arguably one of the most important aspects of decreasing pain in your back, I saved this for last. Proper alignment of the low back will decrease pressure on pain sensitive nerves, improve motion of the joints of the low back, decrease stress on the soft tissues, and improve overall function of the low back. Chiropractic care has been routinely shown to be safe and effective for relieving the back pain associated with pregnancy. Spinal adjusting has also been linked to improved labor and delivery. There are certain medical conditions that may be a contraindication to chiropractic care but, for most women, chiropractic care can be very effectively incorporated into a pain management regimen. In my office, I will frequently see pregnant patients on a weekly or biweekly basis for their pain and most women will see decreased pain immediately following their adjustment. They also will report improved ability to sleep, decrease generalized soreness, and an improved ability to function. In my opinion, chiropractic adjusting should be incorporated for most women with pregnancy related low back pain.

If you are struggling with pregnancy related low back pain, there are solutions out there for you. Perhaps the best place to consult about your back pain is with someone who sees a lot of back pain patients, like a chiropractor. Besides adjusting your spine, they can provide you with additional tips and tricks to alleviate your pain.

Has your doctor suggested pain medication to you? Always ask better questions. The decision to take pain medication while pregnant should be a thoughtful one made with your medical doctor.  You need to know what research has been done on that medication and its effect on a developing fetus. Certain conditions like asthma and autism have risen to alarming rates, with little research done on the effects of oral medications on an undeveloped fetus. While there is little overt evidence to explain the remarkable rise in childhood illness, that is mostly the result of a lack of research. Just because there is not an established 1 to 1 relationship between a specific cause and disease does not discount an overall trend toward increasing illness due to an accumulation of exposures. I don’t think it’s an accident that autism rates have risen to 1 in 88 kids. Too much of the research focuses on, and debunks, a single specific cause like vaccination and I fear conditions like autism are not due to a solitary cause but a series of toxic exposures over time. Unfortunately, there is very little research on the effects of pre-pregnancy, intra-pregnancy, and post-pregnancy toxic exposure on the developing child. However, it reasons that the rises in childhood illness rates may be linked to the fact that our environment is as toxic as it’s ever been. Anything you put in your body that is not food is a potential toxin. That toxin can affect you and your baby. Pain medication is not food. Anything you feed your body while pregnant, your baby will respond to, either for good or bad. Try to remove as many toxins as possible from your diet and lifestyle. Turning to natural means for alleviation of your pain may make you and your baby a whole lot healthier and happier for a lifetime of wellness.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symptoms_and_discomforts_of_pregnancy

www.webmd.com/baby/guide/back-pain-in-pregnancy

http://icpa4kids.org/Chiropractic-Research/Pregnancy-and-Adjustments/

Are You Living Below Your Potential?

Life is brief. As humans, we’re tasked with making the most of the limited time we have on this earth. Realizing this, it breaks my heart to see people live below their potential.   Now, I have been in the healthcare business for 15 years and have seen miraculous recoveries in conditions ranging from low back pain to cancer.   In fact, I would argue there are very few conditions out there that do not have an example of a full recovery with nearly every level of intervention.

Unfortunately, most people hurry through life, never stopping to smell the roses and only decide to try for health after years of neglect. People will literally spend decades of their life abusing themselves, then are perplexed when they develop some disease. The frustrating part for me, as a healthcare provider, is that for most of us, there is no mystery to being healthy. In fact, I would say that most people know what to do, they just choose not to do it. Moreover, many of the conditions for which patients chronically endure are correctible with adequate lifestyle change and focused intent.

In my experience, being healthy is not a matter of chance but a matter of choice. For the average individual, your health at any given period of your life is more a reflection of the decisions you’ve made than fate or some form of destiny for illness. Humans are not built for illness. We’re built to be healthy. It’s what we do to ourselves that makes us sick.

You see, you have a near limitless potential for health inside of you. Even a basic understanding of health shows that your body is constantly repairing the effects of physical and mental stresses. Each and every one of us is under relentless assault. Our jobs, our homes, our hobbies, and our lifestyles are constantly attacking us. And, our body is constantly adapting to the assault.

So, why do people get sick? Is it genetics? Recent genetic research suggests that our environment may be actually changing our genes over time. But, does this mean that chronic illnesses are necessarily passed down? Does it mean that if your father and grandfather had heart disease, then heart disease is inevitable for you too? Perhaps genetics does play a mild role but I don’t think genetics explains the measurable rise in chronic illnesses in recent years. Diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, and even cancer have been steadily rising in the U.S. for quite some time. The World Health Organization ranks the U.S. as 37th in general health but I recently heard a statistic that said we consume 42% of the world’s pharmaceuticals. What does that mean? It means that the ‘solutions’ we are turning to are not making us any healthier. Could a more reasonable solution be that chronic illness is learned? I mean, your habits and attitudes about food, exercise, and lifestyle were learned from your parents, who learned from their parents, who learned from their parents, and so on. So, maybe “it runs in my family” is a less accurate description than “I learned about health from my family.” Break the cycle and live up to your potential.

We are becoming a reflection of the choices we make. They say you are what you eat. In a way, that is very true. They also say ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ I think a more correct phrase would be ‘garbage in, garbage stays.’ You become a reflection of the choices you make, good or bad.

Your body is a machine. Much like a car, for example, how your body functions depends on how you treat it. You can’t expect your car to run well if you only drive it every 6 months and fuel it with garbage. The same is true of you. The difference is, and this fact is lost on too many people, your body can self heal. A car can’t. Your physiology is designed to heal. When you cut your finger, you heal. When you break a bone, you heal. When you get the flu, you heal. So, why is it that when we get, say, high blood pressure, we no longer heal? Why do we stop healing when we get diabetes? Is it because you have some form of genetic marker that says, “Ok, at this age you will get sick with a chronic, incurable disease?” Or, is it more likely that you are no longer able to heal from this illness because your potential has been suppressed due to years of neglect? More importantly, is there now hope for you now?

There is a belief in the population that I have seen all too frequently, and believe to be incorrect, that being sick is part of getting older. What if there was a way to change your direction and restore your body’s ability to heal? I’m not talking about magic potions and hocus pocus. I’m talking about getting your health back by making a measurable lifestyle change. You have a limitless health potential inside of you that you’ve suppresses with your neglect and bad choices. What if you could get some of that back? Wouldn’t even a 10% improvement in your health be a huge win? Your potential for health is still inside of you. You just have to remove any obstacles to the healing process and rediscover your potential. Your body is designed to heal. It wants to heal.

No one has all the answers for completely restoring your health. Frankly, I would be skeptical of anyone making such a claim. However, having worked with thousands of patient’s in my office, I have found several consistencies in patients who have reversed their disease processes:

  1. Stop eating so much junk – Your food is laced with poisons. From preservatives, to artificial colors and flavor enhancers, the FDA allows over 14,000 approved non-food chemicals in the food supply. Most of us consume copious amounts of these toxins annually. Remember, anything you put in your body that is not food is a poison. Your physiology is not designed to process artificial sweetener, additives, and chemically synthesized fats. It is designed to process carrots, and broccoli, and chicken. You need to eat food, the fresher the better.
  2. Lay off the sugar – As Americans, we consume an obscene amount of sugar every year. Now, I’m not talking about apples and strawberries. Honestly, I’ve never seen a patient get to 300 pounds by eating fruit. I’m talking about processed sugar and refined wheat. Sure, we need a little sugar in our diet, but we shouldn’t be eating our body weight in it every year. Worse, much of the sugar we add to our food is highly chemically treated and concentrated. Not only does it contribute to weight gain and diabetes, but sugar is pro-inflammatory, leading to joint pain and fatigue. I’m not saying to be alarmist about it, but you need to know that if you want to stay healthy, refined sugar is going to keep you from that goal.
  3. Get off your stinkin’ butt and move – Your body is designed for exercise. No, not the 30 minutes 3 times per week that’s been taught to us for years. How can you stay healthy on an hour and a half of exercise when you spend the other 166 hours a week largely sedentary? We are literally sitting ourselves to death. Humans are built to be hunter-gatherers. To that end, we are built for 12-16 hours of exercise per day. So, knowing that amount, is the exercise you are getting every day going to keep you healthy? Not unless you get in the game and get off your butt. And no, walking to get the mail or cleaning your house doesn’t count as exercise.
  4. Enough with the ‘stinking thinking’ – If you want to be healthy, keeping a positive attitude is a must. We live in a day and age where we are constantly bombarded by bad news. So, stop subjecting yourself to it. You are what you think about. When it comes down to it, it’s not the circumstances that affect us as much as our attitudes about our circumstances. What I see in my patients, and research confirms this, is that happy positive people are generally healthier. So, turn off the news and enjoy your life. You’ll be happier for it.
  5. You have to supplement – For years, we were told that vitamins are just a waste of money…that they don’t improve health. Vitamins were reserved for nutrient deprived countries to help prevent disease. Here’s a news flash! Americans are nutrient deprived. We’re overfed and undernourished. The reality is that many of us eat such a terrible diet, that we’re not getting all the nutrients we need to stay healthy. Worse, even the healthy foods we eat nowadays don’t have the same health benefits as they did 50 years ago because of chemical treatments and depleted soils. I’ve seen that my patients who supplement consistently are generally healthier in almost every way than patients who don’t.
  6. Get adjusted – Physiology doesn’t lie. It’s impossible to be at maximum health with a corrupted nervous system. Your nervous system is in your spine and it probably needs attention. Do you really think that the mental and physical stresses we endure on a daily bases will have no affect on your nervous system function? Taking care of your spine and nervous system is just as important as diet and exercise to staying well. There is a reason that the number one disability in adults over 50 is spinal disorders. Why? Because fewer than 8% of the population has ever been adjusted in their life and less than 2% of the population gets adjusted for prevention. Our wellness care patients in our office don’t get sick often, generally sleep better, and are generally healthier than the patients we see who choose not to purse a spinal wellness plan. Get adjusted. It may make the difference in your health.

Don’t know how to get well? Find someone who does and listen to them. There are tons of healthcare providers and coaches out there who do understand health and still have faith in the body’s ability to heal despite huge obstacles. A key piece of advice that you must remember though: health is not the same as disease management. Health is health and symptom control is an illusion. Symptom free does not mean healthy.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on yourself. There is always hope. No matter how dire the circumstances, you still have healing potential inside of you. The question is: are you going to stand in your own way or are you going to make the changes necessary to change you circumstances? You have more power than you know. Choose to be healthy!

Cancer On The Rise?

According to a recent report by the World Health Organization, based on research by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, cancer will soon hit a new benchmark.  In 2012, cases of new cancer were estimated worldwide at 14 million but are slated to rise to 22 million within the next 2 decades.  Why the rise?  The World Health Organization blames smoking and obesity, but is that all there is to it?

The most common cancers were lung cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.  The cancer that caused the most deaths was of the lung, nearly 20% of cancer deaths.  The liver and stomach were each nearly 10% of cancer deaths.  They further go on to point that “the burden of cancer internationally has doubled over the last 20 years, and it will double over the next 20 years.”  With more and more research on cancer every day, how can this be?  Are we really winning the war against cancer?  The only conclusion that can be drawn from this report is a resounding ‘no.’

So who’s to blame?  With absolutely huge amounts of money being spent on research and treatment, what are we getting for our money?  A cancer rate set to double?  The report is quick to blame western civilization and our “bad habits” that are being exported exponentially.  I can’t really argue against that point because I see patients every day in my office living tragic lifestyles.  Of course everyone knows that smoking causes cancer.  In fact, it’s a wonder that anyone still smokes despite all the evidence pointing toward not only cancers, but strokes and heart disease.  But, what of the other potential exposures?  Are people even aware of how their habits, lifestyles, and choices may be killing them?

According to some sources, there are over 80,000 potential toxins in our environment, many of them are known carcinogens.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration even allows over 14,000 non-food chemicals in our food supply, many of which Americans consume as “healthy” alternatives to actual food.

For example, artificial sweetener is a common non-food chemical additive.  Some sweeteners like saccharine have been linked to increased cancer rates, yet people continue to lace their food with it as a healthier alternative to sugar.  It seems like it’s almost impossible to find foods nowadays that are not laced with chemicals, from antibiotics in our meats, to medications in our drinking water.  Our food is laced with preservatives, colors, flavor enhancers, dyes, and limitless other additives.  Combine this with lack of exercise, poor sleep habits, high stress, and generally poor nervous system health and you have a recipe for disaster.

Think your medications are healthy?  Well, that depends on your perspective.  They’re definitely healthier than dying.  A better solution would be to work to achieve true health, rather than just covering up the symptoms of your disease with more chemicals.  That is a task you need to work through with your doctor.  You can’t get health from a bottle, only symptom control.  A true healthcare provider will work with you and for you to move you away from disease and back toward health, not just placate your symptoms.

So, what’s the solution to this cancer crisis?  Worldwide, we’ve spent almost too much money to count, so why can’t we get a handle on this life-threatening disease?  The answer could be that we’re not addressing the right problems.  Rather than spending nearly all of that money on research for cancer treatments, would we be better served to allocate larger portions to cancer prevention?  We should be investing in identifying potential exposures and then working to eliminate the potential for risk.

So, are you going to wait for this to magically happen?  You shouldn’t.  You have more control than you know.  If you really want to prevent cancer and preserve your health, here are some practical steps you can take to lower your risk:

1.        Eat better – Anything you put in your body that’s not food is a poison.  You remember what food is, right?  It’s those pesky fruits, vegetables, and healthy meats.  No, soda isn’t food.  Alcohol is a poison.  Artificial sweetener is toxic.  Even your medications come with some risk.  Instead of buying pre-made or packaged convenience food, you’ll have to start cooking again.  This means fresh and organic as much as possible.  If it’s not food don’t eat it.

2.       Limit your exposure – We are constantly under assault from our external environment.  Everything from our cleaning products to air freshener and non-stick cookware has potential toxins in it.  Did you know that plastic is a potential toxin and when microwaved may leach some of those toxins into your food?  If it’s made in a lab, it most likely has the potential to be a toxin, bad news for you.  One of the best things you can do to decrease your cancer risk is consider all of your decisions and do your research before you make them.

3.       Avoid destructive habits – This would include regularly exposing yourself to known recreational toxins such as cigarette smoke and alcohol.

4.       Boost your exercise – Sure people who exercise can get cancer.  Lots of professional athletes have even struggled with this disease.  That being said, however, cancer rates statistically plummet in people who regularly exercise.  Think 30 minutes 3 times a week is enough?  I would argue it’s not for a human organism genetically designed to get 12-16 hours of movement per day.  You may not be able to prevent it altogether, but at least to can decrease your risk.

5.       Limit your weight – Simply put, less tissue means fewer cells.  Fewer cells mean a decreased risk that some of them will become cancerous.  Additionally, fat cells have an affinity for toxins.  So, the heavier you are, the more likely you are to be storing accumulated, potentially cancer causing, toxins.

6.       Maintain a healthy nervous system – Your nervous system is the circuitry for the body.  It controls everything from motion to immune system.  It’s impossible to keep maximum health with a corrupted nervous system.  Exercise is a way to keep the nervous system functioning at a high level.  Spinal adjusting by a trained chiropractor, too, can also decrease nervous system interference.  I won’t say that chiropractic is a definite cancer preventative, but it probably wouldn’t hurt.  Physiologically, a healthy nervous system is critical to a healthy immune system, which should, theoretically, keep cancer at bay.  Sadly, less than 2% of Americans get adjusted regularly.

If you want to beat cancer, you need to take control of your health.  Don’t ever live under the illusion that you can never get cancer but also never believe that cancer is inevitable or inescapable.  If you can take control of your health, make better decisions, and think of health as a journey and investment, perhaps you can reap the rewards of better health and a longer cancer-free life.  Be well.

 

Source:  USA Today, Cancer to Skyrocket Worldwide, WHO report faults smoking, obesity, and increased population; by Nancy Hellmich, February 5th, 2014

What’s Holding You Back?

What’s preventing you from being well?  I mean, for the vast majority of us, total health is completely in our control.  Sure, many will claim it to be the effects of bad luck or bad genes but, the truth is, you are largely in control of whether or not you ultimately develop one of the myriad of chronic illnesses that plague millions of Americans.

Poor health is not a matter of fate.  It doesn’t occur because we are genetically programmed to get sick either.  If we were, humans would be the only animal on the planet that was actually genetically programmed for disease.  Contrary to what you may have been told, we are programmed to thrive and live abundantly, not gradually decay and live at less than our full potential.

So, what’s holding you back?  Why aren’t you living at your full potential?  The bigger questions is, why have you accepted it as normal?  Having practiced as long as I have, you realize that the list of reasons that people have not to take care of themselves is as limitless as there are stars in the sky.  Here are just a few:

1.        I don’t have time – The truth is, everyone has time.  It’s just not a priority for you.  Sleeping in, watching a little extra television, or relaxing on the weekends is just more important to you.  We all have 24 limited hours within the day.  Why is it, then, that some people can find time to take care of themselves while others just never seem to be able.  The reality is that you must make the time.  If your health is a priority, your other activities would be scheduled around taking care of yourself.

2.       It’s too expensive to be healthy – In reality, being healthy can be very inexpensive.  Eating fresh foods, fruits and vegetables, can be a lot less expensive than the pre-packaged garbage we so readily consume.  A gym membership you say?  Work out at home, it’s free.  Regular preventative chiropractic care is a lot cheaper than treating acute back pain.  Heck, taking care of yourself is a lot cheaper than getting sick.

3.       It’s too much work to take care of myself – Of course, being well takes work.  Anyone can get sick but can everyone be well?  The answer is, for the most part, yes.  However, wellness doesn’t just happen on its own.  Health is a matter of deliberate intent.  The body is definitely designed to be healthy in optimum circumstances but who lives an ideal lifestyle?  We are all constantly bombarded by physical and mental stresses.  What separates the healthy from the disease is how we address those stresses and help our body’s adapt to the constant assault.

4.       I have no self control – We all have self control.  Without it, we’d all be criminals.  More likely. You’ve chosen not to control those aspects of your life that contribute to a healthy lifestyle or may be inconvenient.  Whether you manifest any control around a piece of chocolate cake or not is matter of choice.  It’s not to say that your choices will be easy for you but all of your decisions have consequences, good and bad.   You have to choose to be in control.

5.       I just keep forgetting – Again, this is a reflection of priorities.  You probably wouldn’t forget to pick your kids up from school.  You probably also wouldn’t forget to eat.  If you want to be successful at being healthy, you need a schedule and a routine.  Write down what you need to do and when you need to do it.  A short pencil is better than a long memory.

Now, what does this all mean?  It generally means that a person can have every reason in the book to excuse their apathy and neglect.  It also means that the only thing standing in your way is you.  The reality that many may face, though, is that if you don’t remember and make time to take care of yourself now, time will be found for you later when you get sick.  The choice is up to you.  Choose to be healthy now or expect to be sick later.  Either way, the decision is in your hands.  Be well.

New Year, New You – Increasing Success With Your Resolution

As I write this blog, the New Year is just a couple of days away.  Like many people, you probably have resolutions to improve your health and your life.  So, what’s your plan?

Why do people create a New Year’s resolution in the first place?  I don’t think it’s only because it’s a new year.  I think it also has to do with the fact that so many people let themselves go over the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas that they have a burning need to reverse all the damage they’ve done in that single month’s time.

Having practiced for a decade and a half, I’ve worked with thousands of patients.  My experience has shown me that most people’s resolution generally don’t last long into the New Year.  Many either never get started with their resolution or give up on them before they experience any measureable success.   Generally, this can be traceable to a series of flaws in the implementation of their own resolution, including:

1.       Not having a plan

2.       Being unrealistic with their expectations

3.       Creating to broad sweeping of a change too quickly

4.       Not having a start date

5.       Not sticking with it

6.       Not outlining realistic goals

7.       Not working with a healthcare provider or coach

While many people claim to have resolutions they plan to implement on January 1st, most of these changes turn out to be only ‘pot-shots’ in the dark with no direction or end in mind.  Sure, you want to eat better.  Sure, you want to get more exercise.  But, in order to be truly successful in your lifestyle change, you have to be crystal clear about your goals and have a bullet-proof plan detailing how to accomplish them.  Here are some suggestions to help you become more successful at realizing your resolutions:

1.       You need a plan

You know the saying, “No plan is a plan to fail.”  You have to have a plan.  An architect doesn’t build a house without a plan.  A CEO doesn’t grow a company without a plan.  The Marines don’t invade a beachhead without a plan.

I would argue that most people who say they will eat better really have no idea what that means or how to really accomplish it.  They say they will get more exercise but don’t know or understand the types of exercises, the frequencies they should exercise, and how to exercise safely.  To just say you’re going to change this or that is not a plan. You need to write it down.  You need to write down where you are starting, where you would like to be, and how you are going to get there.  You need to set realistic goals and create benchmarks along the way in order to get to your target.

2.        Be realistic with your expectations

Unfortunately, many people either give up or never even get started with their resolutions because their expectations are not based on reality.  A 50lb. weight loss in 4 weeks is not healthy or realistic.  Going from a couch potato to running marathon in a month is not realistic.  Going immediately from eating nothing but junk food to eating only fresh foods is also not realistic.  Your ability to be realistic with your expectations can determine your success or failure with your plan.

If you haven’t exercises in years, an hour on an elliptical right away may be too much for you.  If you only eat junk, a dramatic change to a whole food vegetarian diet is not realistic.  If you are under a lot of stress, completely withdrawing is not in the cards.  You need to implement the changes you are about to make with slow measurable steps.  After all, the saying goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” not a jump off a cliff.  Step by step, steady but sure, you can reach your goals in time, but not all at once.

3.        Don’t try to change too much too fast

Creating too drastic of a change in too short of a time breeds resentment and will sabotage your success.  For example, if you are the type or person who starts the day out with an energy drink and a couple of donuts, an immediate drastic change to healthy foods, while good for you, will create a mental barrier and sabotage your success.  You can’t expect to set up something that you may perceive as a ‘punishment’ and expect to develop success from that.  Further, the withdrawals from a junk-food lifestyle will make you irritable and lethargic, jeopardizing your success.  Instead, from the outset, have a realistic expectation that you can’t just quit your addiction to junk food cold turkey.  You’ll have to wean yourself off of them and wean yourself on to healthy food.

Perhaps a good place for you is to start adding rather than taking away.  Instead of stopping the donuts right away, add some celery.  Add a salad.  Start increasing you consumption of good stuff before you get rid of the bad.  You’ll definitely be boosting your nutrition, while easing your transition to a healthy lifestyle.

4.        You need a start date

Not having a start date is like not having a plan.  It will increase your risk for failure.  Instead of saying I’ll eat better tomorrow or after the holidays, you need to say “on this date I will start my change.”  You also can’t say I’m going to start this when “I get the time.”  If you do, you’ll never have the time.  Being health isn’t about having the time it’s about making the time.  That being said, the time to start isn’t now.  It’s on the date that you set for yourself.  January 1st is generally a good day to begin.

5.        Never give up

Have you ever regretted giving up on something before your success was realized?  Have you ever said to yourself, “Maybe I should have given it more time?”  Well, being successful with any change requires a small investment of time but a realistic one.  In my experience, it generally takes a person about 3 weeks for a lifestyle change to become a habit.  In other words, if you decide to take up walking, as an example, it will take about 21 days for that change to become a habit.  Have you ever quite on day 3, day 10, or even day 20?  You have to stick with it.  Just because the results are slow does not mean it’s not working.

6.        You have to have clear goals

Not having crystal clear goals is like not knowing where you’re going when you’re traveling.  You’ll spend an awful lot of time getting lost and hitting dead ends.  Another analogy is playing a sport and not keeping score.  You won’t know whether you’re winning or losing.

If you don’t have a clear goal, how will you know whether you achieve it or not?  For example, “I’m going to lose weight after the New Year” is not a clear cut goal.  “I’m going to lose 20 pounds in 30 days” is far more clear.  Here is an example of clear cut goals:

“In 6 months, I would like to run my first half marathon (end goal).  To accomplish this, I must hit several benchmarks along the way.  To begin, I will move away from my sedentary lifestyle and begin walking daily starting at 20 minutes.  As walking becomes easier, I will transition to running but I will set a benchmark to be able to run 1 mile within the next 30 days.  I will slowly increase the distance over the subsequent month to set my next benchmark of 3 miles.  By month 3, I would like to be running 5 miles.  By 6 months, I will have worked my way to my goal of 13 miles.”

You see, setting a clearer goal makes it much more achievable.  By setting intermediate benchmarks, you have also established a plan.  And remember, no plan is a plan to fail.  So, begin with the end in mind.  Set your goals and achieve them.

7.        You need guidance

I know you think you may have the answers you need.  To be true, everyone knows they need to eat better and get more exercise.  The problem is, how do you do that safely and effectively and will you stick to the plan?  You need a coach.  Whether it’s a personal trainer, nutritionist, or chiropractor, a coach adds two critical components to your lifestyle change:  accountability and direction.

A coach will make sure you are dong what you’re supposed to do so that you succeed.   If you only have to answer to your own conscience, you are more likely to fail.  By adding a coach, you are making yourself accountable to someone else.  Now, you will not only let yourself down if you quit, you’ll let your coach down.  The impact of accountability can be huge.

A coach will also offer guidance.  Sure, everyone knows to eat better and get more exercise, but what types of food?  What types of exercise?  How often should you eat or exercise?  What should you avoid?  Are you doing something that may be unsafe or unhealthy and not even know it?  Adding a coach adds an objective third party that can evaluate your routine an increase your odds for success.

Now, make sure that the person you are taking your health advice from is a reliable health source.  Unfortunately, many of the people we turn to for health advice are either unhealthy themselves or really specialize in disease management.   Being healthy is not the same as symptom control.  Everyone has a provider they turn to when they are sick.  Who do you rely on to help you stay healthy?

Stop taking ‘pot-shots’ in the dark, hoping you’ll accidentally find health.  Rather, outline a clear cut plan, with realistic goals, and stick with it.  You can be healthier than you know but you need to make the decision to be healthier and outline a definitive plan with crystal clear goals you can realistically achieve.  To be sure, health is a journey not a destination, but without a map, how will you know how to get there?   Use this New Year to finally realize the truly amazing innate health potential being suppressed inside you.  Make this the year of a new you.  Healthy New Year!