Putting Your Health First for National Women’s Health Week
Celebrate National Women’s Health Week by giving yourself permission to be a little selfish. Women are naturally caring, nurturing individuals. Taking care of our families, whether as a Mom, sister, daughter, niece, aunt, or friend, is always a top priority. This week, start the habit of putting yourself first. Do something every day for yourself-something that makes you happy. Put yourself on your calendar and don’t miss the appointment. Whether it be a quiet walk, reading a book, taking a class, meeting a friend, or going for a run, DO IT!
Find time to move. Sometimes, the thought of exercise can be overwhelming as we think about the time it takes, what gym we should use, how much it will cost, what kind of clothes we’ll have to wear, or the skill it takes. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself! Start with a movement that you like to do and incorporate it into your life, like riding a bike, walking, riding a scooter, swimming, playing tag, or dancing. Find an exercise that suits you, and meets your lifestyle.
Balance is a necessity for our well-being. It’s defined as an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. Just as we try to create balance in our life, we want to do the same in our exercise routine. It’s important that we focus on improving our balance in our daily movement strategies. A basketball player who gets pushed while taking a jump shot is prone to injury and decreased performance if she is knocked off balance. Strength, flexibility, a solid core, and good posture will allow her to maintain her balance and make the shot, and these things can help you maintain balance through all the many things you do too.
A simple way to challenge your balance is to stand on one leg as you’re waiting in line, cooking dinner, or brushing your teeth. Begin by standing with good posture and engaging your core. Extend one leg forward or out to the side, and then bring your foot back in beneath your knee (to the “classic” position for standing on one leg) without letting it touch the ground. For an extra challenge, raise your arms overhead, turn your head, close your eyes, or even cross one foot in front of the other while maintaining your balancing position-just don’t try these variations all at once! Establish your balance in one position before adding a variation.
Paying attention to your posture when you’re sitting, walking, and standing is a simple but significant way to make you use your muscles throughout your day. Poor posture such as slouching or standing with your knees locked out, hips forward, and stomach protruding does not use any muscle activity. In fact, it takes away some of the benefit we get from exercise. It causes some parts of our body to get tight and others to get stretched out – causing imbalances. Make an effort to stand with your core engaged, knees soft, and chest lifted towards the ceiling. When sitting, get your buttocks all the way back in the chair, and if needed use a small towel roll to support the curve in your lower back. If your feet don’t touch the floor, add a pillow behind you to take away some of the depth of the seat. Many people start out the day with good posture, but as the day goes on it is easy to become distracted or tired and lose it. If this happens to you, build posture checks into your day. Every time you receive a text message or send an email, let it be a reminder to re-set your posture. Soon it will become a habit!
Stretch your muscles to counterbalance the effects of gravity throughout the day. Lie on your back and reach your arms overhead for one long stretch. This feels great after a long day!
Incorporate strengthening exercises into your daily routine: for example, getting up and down from a chair is a squat. Stand in front of a chair with your feet hip width apart. Slowly sit back in the chair by unlocking your hips first, then your knees. Now just before your bottom meets the seat, stand up! Keep looking straight ahead. If this is too hard for you, sit as far as you can, then use the armrests for support to share the weight between your arms and legs. Another strengthening exercise that’s easy to incorporate into your day is squeezing your shoulder blades together; remember to stand with good posture as you do this. Stand facing a wall or a countertop with your hands on the surface, about 12-18 inches away with your feet shoulder width or a little wider apart. Keeping your body in good posture, slowly lower yourself to the surface. Then push yourself away to work your chest (pectoral) and arms (triceps).
Train your core by tightening your stomach as you reach overhead to put the groceries away, raise your baby overhead, or reach for heavy files. If you tighten your abdominal muscles during all these activities, you will be doing core exercises! Of course there are targeted exercises for your core too. For example, you can perform a bridge by lying on the floor with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Now tighten your stomach and your buttocks and lift your bottom up. Keep your hip bones level. As you get stronger, you can hold this position for 10 seconds. Another exercise is to get on your hands and knees with your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Tighten your stomach, and slowly rock forward. By not allowing your back to sag, you will be working your abdominal muscles.
Ultimately, putting yourself first isn’t selfish at all. Taking care of yourself will allow you to enjoy your life and take care of others in a more positive frame of mind for a longer time.
Theresa Chiaia, PT, DPT is the Section Manager of the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center and Tisch Sports Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. She has been part of the HSS Women’s Sports Medicine Center since its inception and has guided athletes of all levels along the road to recovery and a successful return to competition.