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Some of your assets are more important than others, if you want to make the most of the new chapter of your later life. One of those central assets is your back health.
During 15 years of running a sports therapy clinic in the City of London, I have seen literally thousands of desk-dwelling clients struggling with back problems. Many of these can be managed and often even avoided by implementing a handful of simple changes.
I offer you five easy ‘investment strategies’ that can help you to try and keep your back healthy and happy for decades to come:
These tips will work for people of all ages. However, those of us in later life now have the wisdom, calm and focus to welcome them to our daily routines. No more squandering of assets or crazy risk-taking. Leave it to the young ones to ignore sensible and efficient ways to help you get your back to last.
1 Find lazy ways to incorporate stretching
The Anna Harris stretching technique is one of the most ingenious tricks I have adopted in my clinic. I simply ask my clients to stretch their hamstrings every time they brush their teeth.
If you do this properly, you will be stretching each hamstring for 60 seconds at least twice a day. Make sure you keep your lower back straight while stretching and do consult a physiotherapist or an experienced sports professional if you are unsure how to do these stretches properly.
Hamstring flexibility is essential to a healthy lower back: it helps you avoid bending excessively, which is one of the most common ways to sustain back injury.
2 Use tech to keep moving
Staying in one position is bad for your back in any scenario. This is less of a problem if you have had first-class one-to-one posture training, but even then you should move around at least once every hour.
Make use of technology: get yourself an Apple Watch or a Fitbit or similar product that uses accelerometers to check whether you have been completely static for more than an hour. Or install a software programme such as Workrave on your computer. This will automatically prompt you to get up and take a break.
Unless you have already adopted excellent habits, you are likely to be surprised at how much time you spend sitting.
3 Invest in a monthly massage
Yes, a relaxing massage sometimes seems like the best idea. It is unlikely to do much for your back, though. Get one of those uncomfortable, Teutonic deep tissue massages instead — but make sure you go to somebody who is well trained and knows the balance between constructive deep tissue work and crazy sadism. There is a vorsprung to be had in using the right technik.
4 Place your cushions strategically
Cushions are not just for decoration. They are fantastic tools to ensure that your back is sufficiently supported when you are taking a well-deserved break.
Have a fresh look at exactly how you recline when you are relaxing: a cushion behind the neck, the middle back, or the lower back, or even two of them might make all the difference between injuring yourself and relaxing in a healthy way.
5 Say no to destructive uses of your back
Think twice before you help the plumber carry the washing machine. Your career as the hands-on good human who helps the lady or gentleman carrying their buggy up the Tube stairs may also have ended. You have now graduated to using your powers of persuasion to ask the younger generation to do this important work in your place.
Once you have implemented these five strategies, I offer you a bonus strategy: take one-to-one classes in the Alexander technique, Feldenkrais or pilates. An hour every week or two can turn you into a posture ninja in less than a year. However, that is for the advanced class. Most people will benefit hugely from the basic entry-level tips above.
You have spent a large part of your life sitting down and adding accumulative challenges to your back health. Now is the time to get smart about that and make sure that back of yours remains one of your healthiest core assets.
Wolfgang Mittelmaier trained at the London School of Sports Massage and is a full member of the Institute of Sport and Remedial Massage. He founded the Mittelmaier clinic in 2002 and has treated more than 3,600 clients since then. Twitter: @Mittelmaier