Stand like Prince Charles to banish back pain: Surprising and simple ways to transform your health

Daunted at the thought of starting a healthy 2012 with a rabbit food diet and vigorous gym routine

Don’t despair. There are dozens of small and simple lifestyle changes you can make that will dramatically improve your health.

Here, leading experts tell ANNA HODGEKISS their secrets for a healthier life…

For perfect posture interlink your fingers from each hand behind your back, just like Prince Charles does

For perfect posture interlink your fingers from each hand behind your back, just like Prince Charles does

PICK FRENCH WINE OVER GERMAN

In moderation, alcohol — and red wine in particular — is thought to have a beneficial effect on heart health, as it relaxes the blood vessels.

Antioxidants in red wine may also have a protective effect on the arteries.

But wine buffs take note — French red wine has up to three times more artery-protecting enzymes than German reds, according to research in the Journal Of The American College of Cardiology.

TO BEAT BACK PAIN WALK LIKE A ROYAL

‘For perfect posture — and to reduce back pain, among a host of other things — interlink your fingers from each hand behind your back, just like Prince Charles does,’ advises physiotherapist Sammy Margo.

‘This will open up your chest and get your shoulders back and down, reversing the slumping posture many people have while sitting.’

And to prevent slumping, the mantra is BBC — bum in the back of the chair — she adds.

Poor posture will throw the body out of its correct alignment, so certain muscles become overworked, while others, such as the stomach muscles, start to weaken through lack of use. This can cause undue stress and strain, especially on the lower back.

SPACE OUT YOUR SUPPLEMENTS

Always leave a space of two hours between taking medication and any of the following: indigestion remedies, calcium (or multivitamins containing the nutrient), milk or iron.

These can affect the absorption of medication, explains Alison Freemantle, a pharmacist at Lloyds Pharmacy.

‘Iron, for example, stops antibiotics being absorbed properly, while calcium affects the absorption of the commonly used thryroid medication thyroxine.’

Indigestion remedies can bind to other drugs, reducing their effectiveness.

Poor posture will throw the body out of its correct alignment, so certain muscles become overworked, while others start to weaken through lack of use

Poor posture will throw the body out of its correct alignment, so certain muscles become overworked, while others start to weaken through lack of use

SWAP SPARKLING FOR STILL

Fizzy water can harm your teeth, warns the British Dental Health Foundation.

After drinking any fizzy drink, the hard outer coating (enamel) on your teeth becomes softer for a while and loses some of its mineral content.

This damage is slowly neutralised by your saliva, but if the acid attack happens too often, the saliva does not have chance to repair the damage, and over time the enamel can be destroyed.

Save your fizzy drinks for low calorie mixers to accompany spirits — by making this swap you halve the calorie content of the mixer, says nutritionist and personal trainer Sarah O’Neill.

LIFT YOUR LEGS IN THE AD BREAKS

‘The knee joints are the most important in your body when it comes to mobility as they bear most of our weight,’ says Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK.

‘A great exercise is to lie on your back and put a couple of pillows over the bottom of your legs, then lift them up straight, as high as you can.

“You will feel the muscles on the front of the thighs tightening up and this will gradually strengthen them. Just do ten repetitions twice a day while watching TV.’

START THE DAY WITH HOME-MADE MUESLI

While bran can make things worse for those with a sensitive gut, oats can be a gentler form of fibre, says Professor John Mayberry, consultant gastroenterologist at University Hospitals of Leicester.

That’s because unlike bran, oats aren’t coarse — they are known as soluble fibre, which is easier to digest. And rather than simply use them for porridge, he recommends making home-made muesli.

‘Not only will it have less sugar and additives than commercial varieties but you can add better ingredients to it,’ he says.

‘Cheaper varieties of oats from the supermarket are fine — then add some green raisins (found in the world foods aisle of the supermarket) which are very good at helping a sluggish bowel as they are very fibrous. Start with just five a day as they are very powerful.’

SQUEEZE INTO TIGHTER CLOTHES

Have you ever noticed how tight clothes naturally make you hold your stomach in

In doing so you are getting a mini workout by constantly engaging those abdominal muscles, says personal trainer Sarah O’Neill.

‘Clothes that are loose around the waist make you slouch and also you’re more likely to overeat because they simply expand with you, rather than feeling tight.’

However, steer clear of leggings, as they can lead to a loss of tone in the legs, says Sammy Margo.

‘They hold in and support the quadriceps (thigh muscles), buttocks and muscles in your tummy, and do the job the muscles are supposed to do. As a result, the muscles are allowed to relax and switch off.’

TAKE YOUR PULSE

Around 12,500 strokes a year could be prevented if more people with atrial fibrillation, the most common heart rhythm problem, were diagnosed, says Dr Matthew Fay, a GP from West Yorkshire and leading expert in atrial fibrillation.

Left untreated, it can cause a stroke and over-65s are particularly at risk.

‘The golden rule is if your pulse doesn’t tick steadily like a clock, it’s time to see the doc,’ says Dr Fay.

To take your pulse: lightly press your index and middle finger on the inside of your other wrist at the base of your thumb, near to where the strap of a watch would sit.

If you can’t feel anything, press slightly harder or move your fingers. Once you’ve found your pulse, continue to feel it for about 20 to 30 seconds.

Feel the rhythm and note if it’s regular or irregular. Occasional irregularities such as missed beats are very common and usually nothing to worry about.

But if your pulse is irregular for 20 to 30 seconds — or is rather like a Morse Code hammer in World War II films — then see your practice nurse or GP.

DOWNSIZE YOUR MORNING JUICE

If you start the day with a glass of fresh orange juice, dowsize the serving from 250ml to 150ml, says dietitian Helen Bond.

This will save you around 50 calories — equivalent to a brisk walk for ten minutes — and it’ll still count as one of your five-a-day.

PUT YOUR LAPTOP ON TOP OF A BOOK
Raise the height of your laptop with a large book - to stop yourself looking down all the time - and buy a separate keyboard

Raise the height of your laptop with a large book – to stop yourself looking down all the time – and buy a separate keyboard

Using laptops — even at a desk —for long periods of time should be banned as they promote terrible posture, and in turn, neck and back pain, says Sammy Margo.

Laptops encourage us to look down, whereas a screen should be directly in front, with no need to dip your head.

To combat this, raise the height of your laptop with a large book — to stop yourself looking down all the time — and buy a separate keyboard.

If nothing else, buy a separate mouse, rather than relying on the built-in touch sensitive one, adds osteopath Adam Dallison, as this can also lead to back pain.

It may surprise many people to learn that using a foot rest while working at a desk can also lead to long term back and neck pain.

As Adam Dallison explains: ‘For the spine to be tilted into a natural curve, your feet should be significantly lower than your hips, i.e. flat on the floor.’

DRINK WATER TO PREVENT FALLS

Many older people are dehydrated, either because their thirst mechanism fades with age or because of medication such as diuretics, which cause more frequent trips to the loo.

‘Dehydration is often why people feel light-headed and/or fall upon standing up,’ says Dr Fay.

‘Therefore it’s a good idea to have an extra glass of water with your meals.’ Two glasses of water with meals could save you from a fatal hip fracture.

USE A BIGGER FORK

A study in the Journal Of Consumer Research found that when eating out, people who used a large fork ate less than those who used a smaller one.

Researchers believe those with smaller forks felt they were making slower progress in satisfying their hunger, so ate more.

The research team put its conclusion to the test by varying the portions of food. It was found that when served larger portions, diners with small forks ate significantly more than those with larger forks.

In contrast, when customers were served smaller portions, the size of their fork did not affect the amount of food they ate.

LEARN TO LUNGE

If you only do one set of exercises each day, make it lunges, says personal trainer Dan Roberts.

‘This is the most beneficial exercise because it uses lots of the large, lower body muscles — the back, bum and legs — and using bigger muscle groups means you’ll burn more calories.’

To perform a lunge: stand with your feet shoulder width apart and step forward, landing with the heel first.

The knee should be at 90 deg and directly above the toes, not further. Continue until the back knee is nearly touching the ground.

Reverse the move to stand up again. Beginners should aim for 40 a day (dependent on age/health), then gradually try and aim for 100 a day.

SWAP TO SKIMMED

‘Swapping full-fat milk for skimmed milk in your tea saves around ten calories per cup,’ says Helen Bond.

‘If you’re a big tea drinker — say you have on average five cups a day — you’ll have saved 350 calories over the course of a week.

“Plus, skimmed milk has the benefit of slightly more calcium, which is vital for healthy bones.’

Swapping from full-fat to semi-skimmed would save six calories a cup.