1. Undertake whole of body activity that you enjoy
- Be active - Inactivity is the most dangerous state for all of us.
- There are many different ways to be active; do things you enjoy. E.g. walking, swimming, ballroom dancing, yoga, pilates.
- Weight bearing exercise is better for preserving bone density.
- Exercising in groups is social and good for your motivation and mental health.
2. Listen to your body
- If you can do an activity, and it does not worsen existing pain, then there is almost certainly a net benefit for your health and wellbeing.
- However, if a particular activity reliably worsens your pain, then find a different way to achieve the same outcome.
- The exception is if everything is painful, then it is better to stay as active as possible.
3. Focus on good posture
- When standing, sitting or lying, always try and maintain posture that is as symmetrical and balanced as possible. This minimises muscle load and optimises joint alignment, reducing the risk of any individual structure being overloaded and becoming painful.
- Use strategies to keep the abdominal core muscles working - stand with slightly bent knees; use pelvic activating / pilates-like exercises.
4. Take a medium term view
- The aim of the game is to slowly increase the capability of the tissues.
- Sudden jumps in activity don’t give the tissues time to adapt and dramatically increase the risk of injury.
- It is more important that you can achieve your desired level of activity week-in, week-out in 3-6 months’ time, then to achieve it once next week and then be out injured.
5. Respect your age
- The body’s connective tissues slowly lose their elasticity with each passing year, making them more prone to injury. Activities that violently load tissues may be OK at 15, but are downright dangerous at 60.
- We lose relatively little capability with each passing year, but generally just need to take a little longer building towards any goal (smarter not harder).
6. Manage your risk (90:10 rule)
- The 90:10 rule – 10% of our activities give us 90% of our risk of injury. Some activities are much higher risk than others. By avoiding a small number of specific, high risk activities, we dramatically increase the likelihood of being able to keep enjoying the vast majority of what we want to do.
7. Use the gym safely
- Avoid always exercising only one part of your body. Undertake a range of exercises in the gym.
- Focus on technique. Work out as if you are getting judged for style points, not just on the heaviest weight that you can lift.
- Avoid overhead weights (e.g. lat pull downs, military presses). Anything above your shoulders is high risk for neck and shoulder injuries. All major shoulder muscles can be exercised without going overhead.
- Avoid extreme loading of your lower spine. Avoid activities that dramatically increase pressure in the spinal discs and therefore risk disc rupture or spinal compression fractures (e.g. heavy leg presses / loaded squats / stair jumping etc).
- Look for a personal trainer with a bit of age and / or experience of injuries. They are less likely to push you to the point of injury.
8. Manage your stress
- Stress is useful in short bursts to help respond to emergencies, but is highly toxic to our bodies when sustained.
- High stress worsens body pain and increases the risk of most illnesses.
- As we get older, hopefully we come to understand that we get less say over what happens to us in life, but a greater say in how we respond to it!
- Relaxation / mindfulness / meditation are strategies to help quiet our minds and reduce our stress activation.
9. Breathe well
- The best way to breathe involves using your diaphragm (the muscle that divides your chest from your abdomen).
- When we breathe with our diaphragms, our belly tends to move in and out.
- Avoid routine “stress” breathing where the shoulder / neck muscles are overused.
10. Have good nutrition
- Avoid “diets” – try and have sustainable, healthy eating habits.
- Minimise processed, highly-packaged, “dead” foods that tend to reside in the middle of the supermarket.
- Choose fresh “live” foods that tend to reside around the edges of the supermarket. E.g fruit and vegies, non-processed meat, etc.
- Avoid sugar and excess carbohydrates (including in many processed products).
- Maximise omega-3’s (fish or krill oil) for brain, heart and musculoskeletal wellbeing.
- Consider probiotics and fiber to aid gut health.
- Maintain healthy vitamin D levels (with sensible sun exposure or supplementation).
Dr. Chris Homan
MBBS FRACGP FACRRM DRANZCOG PGDipMSM(Otago)