Back pain? 7 ways to strengthen your spine

Most of us can cure or even avoid back pain and surgery by taking a few daily preventive steps. Spinal problems can start as early as age 29, so it's never too early or too late to start.

People tend to forget the spine is part of the central nervous system, along with the brain, and relies on the peripheral nervous system: the millions of nerves that send messages to the brain that control the body's functions. An unhealthy spine interferes with this entire system, causing a host of unwelcome health issues such as pain, numbness, and weakness in the arms and legs, impaired breathing and digestion and impaired control of the bowel and bladder.

Here are a few tips to help you take better care of your spine and back:

Remember your mother saying "Stop slouching"? You would think it goes without saying, but too many of us simply don't maintain good posture, which is critical for a healthy spine.

Your smartphone is a pain in the neck

Good posture is defined as ears aligned with the shoulders and the "angel wings," or the shoulder blades, retracted. In proper alignment, spinal stress is diminished. It is the most efficient position to achieve the best posture possible.

Good posture also has other health and wellness benefits. Researchers at San Francisco State University have found a link between poor posture and depression, and many experts believe stooping and slouching could be associated with weight gain, heartburn, migraines, anxiety and respiratory conditions.

Proper posture leads to a taller appearance, deeper breathing, improved well-being and increased energy with enhanced human performance.

Deep belly breathing can improve your posture

Place your hands on your abdominal area and feel your belly move as you inhale and exhale. Do this as many times a day as possible to improve your posture and overall spinal health. Deep belly breathing enables the spinal nerves to move within the spinal channels, diminishing pain and providing a sense of well-being.

Targeted simple exercises can strengthen your core and joints

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, exercise is therapeutic. Just 10 minutes per day is all you need to perform some simple spine-strengthening exercises.

Neck stretches, including bending and extension range-of-motion exercises, are just a series of simple side-to-side, up-and-down and ear-to-shoulder stretches that can dramatically improve the health of the cervical spine. 

Using light weights to improve posture and performing some yoga poses like downward dog, which opens up the chest and stretches the spine, can also improve spinal health. Push-ups can strengthen the spinal and postural muscles as well.

Steroid injections common for back pain sufferers

What you eat can directly impact your spine

You may not think that your diet affects your spine, but it actually plays a key role. A healthy diet consisting mostly of lean proteins, healthy fats and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is ideal for building a lean body and muscles that support the spine.

To improve the condition of your spine, supplement your diet with a multivitamin along with a B-complex and Omega-3s, as they have been shown to help decrease pain in the nerves of the spine.

Spend a little time in the sun every day

Believe it or not, the sun can have a magical effect on your body, including your spine. Sunlight energizes the whole body, literally waking it up and encouraging the body to stand up straighter.

Further, sunlight contains vitamin D, which is required for strong bones, including the spinal column, and is manufactured in the body through sun exposure. Try to spend 10 to 20 minutes in sunlight daily.

Pay attention to how -- and how long -- you sleep

Studies suggest that insufficient sleep is associated with increased neck and back problems. It is important to get a sufficient amount (between six and eight hours) and of course, to sleep in a position that enables the spine to relax. The ideal position is on your side, as that puts the least amount of pressure on the spine.

You should also create a proper sanctuary for sleep, choosing a suitable mattress and pillow for comfort, eliminating all outdoor light and providing fresh cool air. Avoid interacting with any electronic devices at bedtime.

Why your back, feet hurt: Blame evolution

Don't hesitate to meditate

Meditation can restore alertness, improve your mood, increase productivity and prolong life, not to mention the positive effects it can have on your spine and posture. People who meditate tend to focus on their core, automatically straightening their spines in the process.

To remind yourself to carve out 10 minutes or so per day to perform these exercises and rituals (especially in the middle of a busy workday), you can set an alarm on your smartphone.

You can also utilize apps -- Healthy Back Workouts provides three apps devoted to the neck and upper back, strong spine and core and posture and lower back. They're designed to accommodate the beginner, intermediate or advanced individual with step-by-step photos and detailed instructions.

Through awareness of posture, breath, meditation, nutrition, exposure to sunlight and exercise, people can strengthen and condition their spines and create overall well-being in the process.



Linking Stress to Diabetes and Heart Disease

High levels of cortisol — the so-called stress hormone — have been associated with cardiovascular disease in some studies, but not in others. This may be because measuring cortisol in blood or saliva at one point in time may pick up acute stress, but it fails to account for long-term stress.

Now Dutch researchers have assessed cortisol levels over several months by analyzing scalp hair samples. Their results appeared online in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

The researchers measured the cortisol content in hair samples corresponding to roughly three months of growth from 283 older men and women, average age 75. They also gathered self-reported data about coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease, Type 2 diabetes, lung disease, cancer and osteoporosis.

Compared with those in the lowest quarter for cortisol, those in the highest quarter had about three times the risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. There was no association between cortisol levels and the risk for lung disease, cancer or osteoporosis.

The senior authors, Dr. Laura Manenschijn and Dr. Elisabeth van Rossum of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, acknowledge that they had no data on blood pressure or lipid status, which may have affected the results.

“The increased risk,” Dr. van Rossum said, “is comparable to traditional risk factors — hypertension, abdominal obesity. This is in the same range.”



Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep

Sleep makes you feel better, but its importance goes way beyond just boosting your mood or banishing under-eye circles.

Adequate sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, and can benefit your heart, weight, mind, and more.

"Sleep used to be kind of ignored, like parking our car in a garage and picking it up in the morning," says David Rapoport, MD, director of the NYU Sleep Disorders Program.

Not anymore. Here are some health benefits researchers have discovered about a good night’s sleep.

Improve memory

Your mind is surprisingly busy while you snooze. During sleep you can strengthen memories or "practice" skills learned while you were awake (it’s a process called consolidation).

"If you are trying to learn something, whether it’s physical or mental, you learn it to a certain point with practice," says Dr. Rapoport, who is an associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center. "But something happens while you sleep that makes you learn it better."

In other words if you’re trying to learn something new—whether it’s Spanish or a new tennis swing—you’ll perform better after sleeping.

Spur creativity

Get a good night’s sleep before getting out the easel and paintbrushes or the pen and paper.

In addition to consolidating memories, or making them stronger, your brain appears to reorganize and restructure them, which may result in more creativity as well.

Researchers at Harvard University and Boston College found that people seem to strengthen the emotional components of a memory during sleep, which may help spur the creative process.

Be a winner

If you’re an athlete, there may be one simple way to improve your performance: sleep.

A Stanford University study found that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for seven to eight weeks improved their average sprint time and had less daytime fatigue and more stamina.

The results of this study reflect previous findings seen in tennis players and swimmers.

Sharpen attention

A lack of sleep can result in ADHD-like symptoms in kids, Dr. Rapoport says.

"Kids don’t react the same way to sleep deprivation as adults do," he adds. "Whereas adults get sleepy, kids tend to get hyperactive."

A 2009 study in the journal Pediatrics found that children ages seven and eight who got less than about eight hours of sleep a night were more likely to be hyperactive, inattentive, and impulsive.

"We diagnose and measure sleep by measuring electrical changes in the brain," Dr. Rapoport says. "So not surprisingly how we sleep affects the brain."

Have a healthy weight

If you are thinking about going on a diet, you might want to plan an earlier bedtime too.

Researchers at the University of Chicago found that dieters who were well rested lost more fat—56% of their weight loss—than those who were sleep deprived, who lost more muscle mass.
"Sleep and metabolism are controlled by the same sectors of the brain," Dr. Rapoport says. "When you are sleepy, certain hormones go up in your blood, and those same hormones drive appetite."


Raghda Sawas

Plan of Medicinal, Aromatic Crops Exceeds 77,000 Hectares

DAMASCUS, (ST) – Director of the Production Plant at the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, Abdul Mou’in Qadmani, underlined that investment in medicinal and aromatic plants is considered economically profitable projects being spread naturally in various areas of Syria, noting that these plants don’t need much toil, whereas other crops need irrigation and fertilization.

“The ministry is following up the agricultural production plan of some medicinal and aromatic crops such as cumin, anise, cumin, coriander, saffron, thyme, and damascene rose,” Mr. Qdmani said.

The total area planned for this season 2012-2013 is about 77055 hectares distributed to the governorates of Damascus Countryside  1113 hectares, Homs 3762 hectares, Hama 8764 hectares, Al Ghab Plain 1280 hectares, Idlib 13726 hectares, Tartous 28 hectares, Aleppo 36605 hectares, Al Raqqa 4157 hectares and Hasaka 7620 hectares, Mr. Qdmani pointed out.

“The average production per hectare of this crop is approximately 1200 kg and the average annual production is 9200 tons of crops included the agricultural production plan,” Mr. Qdmani clarified.

He pointed out that the area planted during the past 2011-2012 season amounted to 72236 hectares and cumin is considered on of the major crops where the total area planted of this crop is 58634 hectares, comprising 81 percent of the total cultivated area.

“Due to the increasing demand for these agricultural products and high prices on the local and regional level, the interest in growing such crops increased. In the current years, local investments started taking care about producing medicinal and aromatic plants for their multiple uses in the pharmaceutical industry, cosmetics, perfumery and food,” Mr. Qdmani stressed.

He pointed out that growing medicinal and aromatic plants are considered environmentally friendly because these crops do not need large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides and thus the cost of production is low as they don’t need large amounts of water and can also grow in the medium fertility land.

The Ministry is working with bodies concerned to invest in this sector, whereas technical committees were formed with the participation of several bodies from the Ministry of Agriculture, Public Authority for Agricultural Researches, Directorate of Plant Production, Directorate of Forestry, Colleges at the University of Damascus Medicine, Pharmacy, Agriculture, Science and Ministry of Culture. The Committee has listed 263 medicinal and aromatic plants spread within the Syrian territory.


Sh. Kh.

Fame may 'lead to a shorter life'

"The researchers found that performers such as actors were among those who died the youngest."

Having a glittering career in the public eye may come at the cost of a shorter life, an analysis of obituaries in a US newspaper suggests.

It showed performers and sports stars tended to die a few years younger than people successful in other careers.

The researchers acknowledge the study does not provide any conclusive answers, but said it asked interesting questions about the cost of fame.

The data was published in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine.

Researchers in Australia looked at 1,000 obituaries in the New York Times between 2009 and 2011.

They showed that performers, such as actors, singers and musicians, as well those who made a career in sport died the youngest - at an average age of 77.

Writers, composers and artists died at 79. Those classed as academics, including historians and economists, survived until 82 on average while those in business or politics made 83.

The researchers, at the University of Queensland and the University of New South Wales, said cancer, particularly tumours in the lungs, was more common in performers.

Professor Richard Epstein said: "A one-off retrospective analysis like this can't prove anything, but it raises some interesting questions.

"First, if it is true that successful performers and sports players tend to enjoy shorter lives, does this imply that fame at younger ages predisposes to poor health behaviours in later life after success has faded?

"Or that psychological and family pressures favouring unusually high public achievement lead to self-destructive tendencies throughout life?

"Or that risk-taking personality traits maximise one's chances of success, with the use of cigarettes, alcohol or illicit drugs improving one's performance output in the short term?"

He added that, whatever the reason, the findings should be considered as a "health warning to young people aspiring to become stars".

Honey Langcaster-James, a psychologist who specialises in celebrity behaviour, said so few people achieved star status that it made it difficult to scientifically study the effect on people's lives.

She said: "The results are interesting of themselves as they suggest an inherent hazard of a public career and that all that glitters is not necessarily gold.

"They may be paying a high price for their career."

However she said it was not easy to come up with a scientific explanation.

On the one hand she said such a career "has unique stressors" such as "the pressure to live up to a public image, which can lead to risky behaviours".

Yet she suspected that "particular personal characteristics predispose people to wanting a career in the public arena", which may also lead to lifestyle choices affecting health.

Source: BBC