We live in a wonderful country full of opportunity and affluence. However, we also live in one of the sickest countries in the world. The statistics for chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are alarmingly high as the rates of these ailments have increased exponentially over the past 50 years. On the other hand, the human genome has not changed meaning we can’t blame it all on our parents, so how can we account for this disturbing trend?

The answer is simple, lifestyle. We have come a long way since the beginning of the human race where it was all about survival. There were no grocery stores as we were completely reliant on our ability to hunt and gather. Man was constantly moving around all day every day as our existence was predicated on our ability to be active and adapt to our environment. Over time as we have progressed we find ourselves stuck in a predominantly sedentary lifestyle. Many of our vocational tasks include sitting for long periods of time, traveling, and using a computer or other electronic device. This is a far cry from spending all day gathering food and running for our lives from would be predators. We currently find ourselves afflicted with a lifestyle that is incongruent with our genetic code. This makes us susceptible to the aforementioned “lifestyle” diseases.

The good news is that each and every one of us has control over this and the ability to make changes as necessary. Let me introduce you to epigenetics. This is the science of how the genes express themselves. Simply put, our environment(activity level, food, stress) directly affects which genes are turned on and off, and how they are expressed. Think of your genes as the ingredients needed to make your favorite food dish. Epigenetics is the recipe that tells you which ingredients you need and how much of each. Therefore, since the human body is designed to move, let’s go!

This means exercise. Exercise is one of the most powerful and influential activities one can do with a multitude of benefits. Everyone should be doing some form of exercise almost every day. This doesn’t mean forcing yourself to get a gym membership and then staring at the clock while on the treadmill counting down the minutes until you are done. I always tell people to find something that they enjoy because we all know that if you hate doing something it is not going to last long. Exercise needs to be a vital component of everyone’s day and become a consistent habit. The key is to find an activity that you enjoy such as walking your dog, swimming, riding a bike, playing a sport, or taking an exercise class. Find that activity that you enjoy and make it a regular staple of your routine. Remember to start any new activity very slowly so your body has the chance to adapt helping to avoid injuries and discouragement.

There are many simple things we can do daily to help us move more. For example, park your car in the furthest spot from the building you are going into. Whether it’s your workplace, the mall, or the grocery store you are guaranteeing yourself more motion and there is always ample space the further you get. No more fighting for those spots closest to the building, and let’s face it, in Massachusetts any time we get the chance to shy away from vehicular confrontations the better we will all be! When given the choice opt for the stairs rather than the elevator. Stair stepping is a great way to get the blood pumping and you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in an elevator, easing all our inherent claustrophobia. While at work set a timer at your desk every 15 minutes so you are forced to move around. Get up, stretch, and take a short walk around the office before resuming work. Following lunch use your remaining time to take a walk outside, weather permitting. Using a pedometer is a great way to make yourself accountable as it’s a constant reminder that you should be moving. Studies suggest that we need to take 10,000 steps daily for our health. This sounds like a lot, and it is, but well within reason when we make it a priority.

Most people will rebut with, “I don’t have enough time”. I know how busy everyone is but exercise needs to be a priority. Waking up 20 minutes earlier to squeeze in a work-out won’t kill you. Making small changes in your daily routine can help increase your activity level. It’s never too late to implement a more active lifestyle. Surround yourself with supportive family members, friends, coworkers who will help keep you accountable and motivated. Having an “exercise buddy” is a great way to keep you consistent.

Don’t be scared by the ominous chronic illnesses looming over our society. You have direct control over your body and the ability to adapt as needed. Exercise is a critical foundation of a wellness lifestyle based on preventing disease rather than treating the disease once it’s too late. It’s important to change the factors that we can control. It all starts with making a commitment to take a proactive approach to your healthcare.

Helpful Winter Tips

Here are some helpful tips to reduce your chances of falling prey to the snow.

What most people don't understand is that shoveling is a very aerobic exercise. Like any aerobic exercise you must warm up before you engage in the activity. Spend 10 minutes doing something to get the blood flowing and muscles warmed up. This can include walking briskly or stretching. Help limber up your back by going through some simple range of motion exercises. These include bending forward at the waist, bending backward, leaning to each side, and turning the upper body slowly to each side. Make sure each motion is slow, controlled, and deliberate. Once you are sufficiently warmed up, you are ready to rock and roll!

Hydration is a crucial component of every aerobic activity so make sure you drink enough liquids before, during, and after you shovel. Even though it's cold out you will work up a sweat resulting in a loss of electrolytes and fluids.

Picking the proper tool makes a big difference. An ergonomically curved handle shovel helps decrease the bending your back has to do. Also, the lighter the shovel is, the easier it will be to use, and so plastic is usually a better choice than metal.

One of the best ways to keep yourself out of trouble is to shovel the snow sooner rather than later. Removing snow after it has freshly fallen while it's light and fluffy will make your job that much easier. Prolonging this task runs the risk of snow freezing and becoming heavier and more difficult to move, leading to increased injury potential.

Another effective method is to not even shovel! If the snow is light enough you may have the opportunity to use the shovel as a plow and push the snow out of the way rather than lifting it. This reduces the load on your spine and consumes much less energy than shoveling.

Always make sure you have safe footing while shoveling. Wear appropriate footwear and watch out for ice or other slippery areas that could lead to a costly spill. You won't have to worry about injuring yourself shoveling if you have already fallen and hurt yourself before you even get started.

Lifting the snow is where most people run into trouble. Remember to stabilize your core by tensing your abdominal muscles while maintaining normal breathing. This will keep your back from hyper extending and placing more strain on it. Try not to bend at the waist since this will also increase pressure on the lower back. Bend with the legs as much as possible when you have to lift anything. Keep the shovel close to you and take multiple, smaller loads (it make take longer but it will be less stressful on you.)

Once you have lifted the snow, dispose of it in front of you, or turn your whole body completely to the side before you discard it. Twisting the back with a weighted load puts the most strain on the low back and predisposes you for the greatest injury potential. Don't throw the snow, but rather walk to where you want to put it and unload your shovel. Again, it may take you longer but you will avoid trouble and stay safe!