We all have bad habits that started early in life. But as American lifespans get longer and longer, those bad habits are catching up with us.
Before the advent of the car, people walked most places. Before gas furnaces and running water, before we all went to shopping malls, American’s chopped wood for their fires, pumped water to bathe, wash clothes and drink and hiked to the nearest store to purchase clothing.
But today, with all the modern conveniences at our disposal, we spend much more time sitting instead of walking; more time shopping than doing manual labor and much more time slouched in front of the TV or computer.
This article is not about reverting to nature and chopping wood for heat, it’s about how our lives have dramatically changed in the past 100 years. Not only do we do less physical labor, but as a result of better healthcare, better nutrition and sanitation, we are living longer than ever. When the average age for men and women was 55 years old, the bad habits accumulated over a lifetime didn’t usually matter much. Now that the average American lives into their 70’s and 80’s, those bad habits are hard-wired into our lives and they’re catching up with us.
Forgetting to Practice Good Posture
Think about the number of hours you spend on your couch or in your recliner watching TV or working on your laptop. Then think about what your posture looks like. Are you practicing good posture while lounging or working on the couch? It’s estimated that 65 million Americans suffer from some form of back pain. While back pain can be a result of many different injuries or conditions, there are things we can do to strengthen our backs and avoid back pain by practicing good posture every day.
TIP: Instead of spending hours with your feet up watching TV, slouched in your spot, practice good posture – even while sitting. Stand up and stretch during commercials or get down on the floor and do some leg lifts. Do any activity that keeps your blood flowing and and your body in proper alignment.
TIP: When you sit at your computer, make sure that your hands rest comfortably and that your wrists aren’t bent up or down. Carpal Tunnel syndrome can easily result from this daily bad habit.
TIP: When you stand up and walk, remember to put your shoulders back and walk like a model: chest up, shoulders back and hips forward. You’ll look better and feel better in the long run, too.
Wearing High Heels
Although high heels are fashion forward and seen on every movie star, they have significant long term health implications. High heels not only cause significant damage to your feet over time, they also shorten the ligaments in your calf so that walking without high heels becomes painful. Wearing high heels every day can cause serious problems with your hips, knees and even your back. Wearing a heel forces you to put the majority of your weight onto the tips of your toes. Having the weight put on front part of your foot instead of evenly throughout the foot causes the body to compensate and shift weight forward, driving your body out of alignment. This kind of imbalance over time can cause irreversible damage and chronic pain.
TIP: Try buying shoes with heels 2″ or lower. Many healthcare organizations now recognize the damage done by high heels are asking their female employees to go low.
Carrying a heavy purse or briefcase
Women carry a purse from the time their teenagers until the day they die. The kind of purse you carry can make the difference between suffering with shoulder, hip and knee pain or being relatively pain free. Carrying a heavy purse on one shoulder, forces you to shift your entire body to balance the extra weight you’re lugging around on your shoulder. Over the years, this constant weight imbalance creates long-term affects on your body. Women as young as 35 go to their doctors complaining about hip, knee and shoulder pain that is a direct result of hauling around an extra 10-15 pounds on one shoulder.
TIP: Carry a smaller purse. You really don’t have to carry half your possessions around with you. Honest.
TIP: Take everything out of your purse and put back only those things that fit comfortably in a smaller purse (10 by 14 inches should be the maximum). Start with the essentials. Your wallet, your phone, your keys. And then decide what else you really need to carry with you today.
This simple habit can result in less pain in your hip and shoulder as you age.
Adding Pounds as We Get Older
The average American gains 2 pounds a year – every year – after high school or college graduation. Two pounds a year doesn’t sound like much until you think about what that means in ten years or twenty years.
Did you know that every 5 pounds of weight exerts 20 pounds of pressure on your knees? So it’s no surprise that every additional pound you gain puts added stress on your knees. Over time, the added weight and pressure can result in wearing away the cartilage in your knees and causing significant distress. Most people are shocked to learn that even those 5 extra pounds could be hurting you in the long run.
Crossing Your Legs While Sitting
We’re all guilty of it, and maybe you even find crossing your legs to be more comfortable than not. This practice is widely overlooked as being damaging, but it is! Crossing your legs causes your lower body to shift alignment. Adding pressure to the hips and lower back when the body is already twisted can cause serious long-term back and hip problems.
TIP: Pay attention to this habit of a lifetime. When you notice that your legs are crossed, uncross them. Break this habit and your hips will thank you.
TIP: Stand up straight, put your shoulders back and walk proudly into a healthier future.
As we age gracefully into our 70’s 80’s and 90’s, we can help our long term health by paying attention to, and changing, some simple habits that we’ve formed over a lifetime.
If you are experiencing pain in your hips, knees or shoulders, contact The Kennedy Center at Mercy and set up an appointment today.