February 3, 2009 [Volume 3, Issue 5]
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In this issue of To Your Health:
Perfecting Your Posture
Hidden Dangers in Common Foods
Heart-Healthy Exercise Habits

Perfecting Your Posture

If you don't have good posture, what do you have? Poor posture can lead to a variety of health problems over time, and yet too many people have bad postural habits. Let's focus for just a moment on the characteristic aspect of posture, the basic form we take while standing or walking. The human body is designed to stand with the eyes level with the horizontal plane of the Earth. Viewed from the front, the shoulders and hips are level and the spine is vertical. From the side view, the ear is over the shoulder, the shoulder is over the hip and the hip is over the knee, which is over the ankle.

The most common signs of postural stress are one ear being higher than the other and unlevel shoulders or hips. You can also detect postural stress from the side if the ear looks as if it has moved forward of the tip of the shoulder or if the hips appear to have moved forward.

The foundation of posture is actually the feet. It is very common for there to be slight differences in the arches of the feet, which create a slight imbalance. This imbalance can cause a chain reaction all the way up the spine, affecting postural balance. One sign of foot imbalances is when one foot flares out more than the other. Both feet should point forward with only the slightest outward flare when you walk.

Here are a few things you can do to ensure ideal posture and correct any postural problems you may be experiencing:

Get checked – If your posture is breaking down as a result of improper foot balance, it is important to have your feet examined to determine if a custom-made, flexible shoe orthotic will be beneficial. Orthotics create a solid foundation for your pelvis and spine by limiting excessive motion in the feet.

Improve flexibility – This is important because postural stress causes some muscles to work harder than others, creating tension and stiffness. Mirror image exercises are stretching and strengthening exercises designed to restore muscle balance by stretching in the direction away from the postural imbalance. If you are looking in a mirror and one shoulder is higher than the other, you will want to stretch and strengthen in the direction that makes the shoulders level. The same concept works for the lower back.

Work with your chiropractor – Be sure to work closely with your chiropractor in developing a plan of action, and then check your progress with a postural analysis. It is important to remember that the body works best when it is in balance, so that should be the goal of all of your stretching and strengthening exercises.

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Hidden Dangers in Common Foods

You may have heard this before, but it deserves repeating: Many prepackaged and processed foods contain non-nutritious chemicals and food additives, including one or more of the following three ingredients: refined grains, trans fats and refined sugars. If we remove these three ingredients, we automatically remove many others simply by association.

Dangerous foods can be defined as nutritionally deficient, frequently consumed and advertised to have "health benefits." The following foods have been chosen because in many cases, they contain refined grains, trans fats and/or refined sugars, and are consumed as daily "staples" by far too many people:

Breakfast Cereals: Most people start their day with some brand of cereal that may advertise numerous health benefits on the front of the box or package. When the list of ingredients is closely examined, you'll find as many as 32 items. Among these ingredients, usually in the first few listed, are the refined grains, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and refined sugars.

Margarine and Butter Substitutes: Margarine is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. This trans fat was advertised heavily for several decades as a healthy alternative to butter. Most of today's new butter replacements are not much better.

Breads, Bagels, Croissants: Most commercial breads are made with enriched wheat, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and refined sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup. The lengthy list of ingredients includes the isolated synthetic ingredients also found in breakfast cereals.

Salad Dressings: A number of salad dressings contain high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. The low-fat dressings are often higher in refined sugar.

Pasta: Pasta comes in many shapes and sizes. It is most often made out of enriched wheat. The vegetable pastas are made out of durum semolina, which is not whole wheat.

What have we learned? All of these foods can contain superior nutrition if they include whole grains, healthy fats and non-refined sugars, but unfortunately, most don't. Truly superior nutrition requires returning to a diet that excludes prepackaged foods and convenience or fast foods. It requires taking the time to read through a list of ingredients to know what you are eating, and choosing whole foods. Talk to your doctor for more information.

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Heart-Healthy Exercise Habits

People always talk about how they're going to the gym to do some "cardio." What's that really mean? Whether they're running on a treadmill, riding the recumbent bicycle or using an elliptical machine, they're talking about doing aerobic exercise – otherwise known as cardio because of its profound cardiovascular benefits.

Plain and simple, when you're doing aerobic exercise, you're using oxygen to replenish energy stores, which means the heart and lungs are working harder and getting stronger in the process. By comparison, anaerobic exercise (for example, weight training), requires your body to create energy without using oxygen. Here are some of the other benefits of aerobic exercise:

Increases blood supply to muscles and ability to utilize oxygen.
Increases amount of blood pumped (per beat and per minute).
Increases HDL ("good") cholesterol and lowers triglycerides.
Increases blood supply to muscles.
Reduces resting heart rate.
Reduces resting systolic/diastolic blood pressure.
Reduces high cholesterol and risk of developing high cholesterol.

To achieve the maximum cardiovascular benefit during aerobic activities, you should exercise for at least 20-30 minutes at a time and build to your "target heart rate" – this is a range of beats per minute that represents approximately 60-85 percent of your maximum heart rate. The more time spent exercising within this safe range, the more you stand to gain, cardiovascularly speaking.

Remember to always talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program, particularly if you have any pre-existing heart condition.

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The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of chiropractic, acupuncture, massage therapy, medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. MPA Media is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.

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