FIVE TIPS TO STAY ISO FIT AND HEALTHY
PERTH-BASED CHIRO AND CROSSFIT-FANATIC, DR. ANDREW ALEKNA, GIVES US HIS FIVE BEST TIPS FOR STAYING MOBILE AND HEALTHY DURING ISOLATION.
After months of intense cabin-fever, Australia is making small progressive steps towards returning to a new normal routine. With the announcement that gyms expect to open late June, and offices will slowly see workers to return to their desks, we can feel optimistic about having some of our ‘old lives’ back soon. Things won’t go back to exactly the way they were as routines for many have been flipped upside down presenting other sets of challenges for us to grasp.
With the understanding that things aren’t as they were, and as many of us look for direction and guidance to help us stay sane and healthy, we’ve turned to health expert and Perth-based chiropractor, Dr. Andrew Alekna, for some pointers on how to achieve these goals.
Dr. Alekna’s Allied Health Professionals practice has experienced little change during Covid-19 and they are an essential service and have remained open throughout. With his patients continuing to visit him, Andrew has used the opportunity to observe and guide them through incredible uncertainty and stress. “I’ve noticed my clients are unsurprisingly experiencing many of the same issues given the current climate” he says, “They’ve flagged that their ‘workout mojo’ has become depleted with the closure of gyms, yoga and Pilates studios and no boot camps, and they’re concerned with their overall health.”
Dr. Alekna says the lack of workout ‘mojo’ is largely due to his patients dropping their healthy routines because there’s a lack of accountability when people never leave the house. He explains it becomes easier and easier to sleep in, forgo exercise before work, skip meals and snack continuously because we don’t have anything to break up our activities.
As our work ergonomics, schedule, and stress have been disrupted during Coronavirus, Dr. Alekna shares five easy tips we can integrate into our lives to ensure a profound effect on our health.
1) Create a Sleep Routine
“One of the top three reasons for not exercising, according to my patients, is that they have no energy. Well, there’s a simple hack for energy, and it’s more sleep” Dr. Alekna says. “As we’re now predominately working from home, our routines are disjointed and our sleep is suffering. Adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a night to be at their optimum and typically we’ll lose roughly an hour of sleep through tossing and turning each night”. To combat this, Andrew says you should aim to physically be in bed for 8-9 hours in order to improve your chances of getting 7-8 hour’s rest. “Resist temptations to watch late night TV and get into bed even if you don’t have a set start work time the next day” he recommends.
If sleep is an even greater issue, Dr. Alekna says the role of melatonin might help. He shares, “sleep happens in the brain thanks to this brilliant chemical produced in the body called melatonin. Your brain knows when to produce and release melatonin based on light exposure. Getting some sunlight during the day can greatly help sleep, as this stimulates melatonin production as well as giving you a good dose of vitamin D.”
Another inhibitor for melatonin production is light! Keeping your phone away from your eyes close to bedtime will help you nod off more quickly and Dr. Alekna advises to keep your phone in another room if you’re struggling to resist the temptation to scroll social media or send text messages before bedtime. Whether we realise it or not, our bodies are so responsive to light (particularly LED light) for melatonin production, that Andrew flags some research suggesting people’s melatonin production was reduced just from having a torch shined on their feet!
According to Dr. Alekna, adults need 2-3L of water each day to maintain health. In fact, he says drinking water can be one of the best (and simplest) ways to improve your health, and while office-workers no longer make the trip to the water cooler to rehydrate and get the body moving, he recommends purchasing a large BPA-free water bottle and setting a goal to drink three or more bottles in a day!
Dr. Alekna also unfortunately reminds us that coffee makes us lose fluid in the body, so not to count the water in our coffee as part of our daily hydration intake. He says “if you are drinking it, add in extra water to your 2-3L to help combat the amount you lose from drinking coffee"
3) Home desk ergonomics
While some offices have experts to help ensure workers have an optimal desk set-up, many workers don’t consider the impact of poor ergonomics when working from home. In fact, it seems many have no idea what this even means! Simply put, ergonomics in this circumstance refers to workers having a desk set-up that ensures optimal comfort and mitigates injury. As a chiropractor who understands the importance of home desk ergonomics, Dr. Alekna says the most common advice he gives his patients is to conduct at-home assessments of their work set-up
- “When sitting at your chair, your hips should be higher than the top of your knees with your feet flat on the floor. This will reduce your hip flexors tightening and your lower back slouching.”
- “Raise your screen up so the top of the monitor is roughly in line with your eyes. This will reduce your hunching to look at the screen. If you’re on a laptop I recommend investing in a wireless keyboard and mouse to use with the laptop and just prop the laptop up on some books or boxes so it’s effectively just being used as a monitor.”
- “Make sure your keyboard and mouse are close enough to you so that you can use them while keeping your arms as close to 90 degrees as possible. This will stop you rounding through your shoulders and that’s a huge cause of shoulder impingement!”
- “Sitting on a fit ball rather than a traditional chair might also be helpful to keep your core engaged while sitting.”
4) Get Moving
“Put simply, our bodies are made to move” says Dr Alekna. Whether we are cognizant of it or not, when we’re in the office we still move around a fair bit as we might make trips to the printer, jump between meeting rooms, walk to have chats with colleagues, or enjoy scheduled movement breaks.”
“However, as we’ve adjusted to working from home, “my patients are telling me they’re spending more time sitting down because they get absorbed by their online work requirements and any hope of a stretch break goes out the window.”
His advice? “I’d recommend wearing activewear while working from home, provided there are no important Zoom calls booked. Also, make it easy for yourself to set out for a walk by wearing your favourite pair of sneakers, and setting alarms throughout the day prompting you to stand-up and walk around. When you do break, pay close attention to stretching out your chest (pectoral muscles) and mid-back as these safeguard a healthy spine.”
Dr Alekna says that staying mobile during the day not only helps ensure your body is better prepared for any post-work exercise (as it hasn’t become stiff from sitting), but “movement breaks have also been proven to increase productivity.”
5) Perform ‘mobility’ exercises
Dr. Alekna says ‘mobility’ refers to stretching and incorporating equipment like foam rollers into your fitness regime. He says this is important as it helps loosen muscle and joint tension and he says that making mobility a daily habit will help you notice improvements in other forms of exercise (e.g. allowing you to complete deeper squats and more flexible yoga poses!)
He shares his go-to mobility exercise below, and all that is needed is a towel!
- “Roll up a towel, place it on the floor and lie down on it so that it travels down between the shoulder blades down your spine. This will help reduce the pressure of hunching at a computer all day.”
- “Start by lying on the towel for at least 2-minutes, and feel free to stay longer if comfortable. Personally, I’ve drifted off to sleep doing this because it was so relaxing!”
During such uncertain and turbulent times, Dr. Alekna believes that staying mobile and healthy is the best way to remain sane and ensure we come out of isolation without added anxieties and new injuries. He believes the above five tips are incredibly important in the current climate for those struggling to adapt to a new healthy routine, but the advice is also applicable beyond quarantine. Dr. Alekna believes “our health is our best asset, and we should safeguard it even when it feels like the world has turned on its head.”