Saturday, February 23, 2008

Health Troubleshooting, Business and the Body, Part 3

The final article in this series that applies business principles to personal health care will address trouble-shooting. One of the most prominent lessons I learned when in business management was to look at a perceived problem and determine its root cause. This skill is even more useful in my role as a Structural Integration practitioner, as the problem (low back pain for example) is often a symptom of a larger disorder (perhaps limited hip range of motion).

It’s natural to focus on symptoms like stiffness, aches, and pains, because they demand attention. In term of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, addressing symptoms is an Urgent and Important (Quadrant 1) activity. Even though many people ignore their pain, it eventually gets to a point where effectiveness or quality of life suffers so bad that it can’t wait any longer.

Here’s a small example. When I have a headache, my husband usually suggests, “Take an ibu.” (He likes ibuprofen so much that he’s given it an affectionate nickname.) It’s typical to think a headache is the problem. Just take the right type of medicine and move on.

However, I want to know the source of my headache. Am I dehydrated? Overworking my shoulders? Or do I have inflamed sinuses or even a brain tumor? Why take ibuprofen, acetaminophen or aspirin if my body is asking for a glass of water or a back rub? This type of investigation and prevention is Important, but not Urgent (Quadrant 2). Dr. Covey teaches that more attention to this quadrant improves effectiveness and gives you more control over your life, in this case your health.

Let me give you another example from my practice. Many people have low back pain and seek treatment that addresses only the back, with no results. The source of some people’s back dysfunction is tight hips as mentioned before, or weak hamstrings, or even feet that don’t push off the ground correctly. That’s why orthotics can sometimes help back pain. Conversely, some people with plantar fasciitis (persistent pain and inflammation in the bottom of the foot) find relief from lengthening their hamstrings and back muscles.

Many people think that the source of low back pain is a bulging disc. But what is causing the disc to bulge?

All health conditions benefit from Quadrant 2 activity. A heart attack demands immediate attention; nothing is more Urgent and Important than that! But after stabilization, the patient is set on a course of prevention, with diet and exercise changes, beta blockers, and a new schedule of physical exams.

In business life and with your health, if you spend more time treating and preventing the root cause, you’ll eventually need to spend less time managing painful and stressful emergencies.

Franklin Covey,
7 Habit of Highly Effective People,
First Things First (Wikipedia),

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Return on Investment for Health, Business and the Body, Part 2

In the first part of this series, we explored health assets (like low blood pressure and bone density) and liabilities (extra weight and LDL cholesterol). Obviously, we want more assets than liabilities. The good news is that healthy behaviors enhance many assets at once.

With the many choices available, how do you decide what health behaviors will do you the most good? We’ll look to the financial world again and use the concept of Return on Investment (ROI).

ROI equals Gain divided by the Cost. So if you invest $100 and gain $20, the ROI is 20%. In the world of personal care, it’s hard to quantify gain. However, we make decisions about ROI every day. For example, what’s a good hair cut worth? Some people pay $18 and others pay $60. In both cases, the return is worth it to the purchaser. Although the value of being vibrant and strong in later years will vary from person to person, most would consider the Gain to be excellent.

Likewise, the Cost of activities such as exercise and eating healthy will be valued differently based on the inputs: time, money, effort, and convenience. However, you can still apply logical criteria.

It’s lunch time during a busy day and you have choices. Do you make a salad chock full of nutritious vegetables, grab a burger from the corner fast food place, or microwave a bowl of soup?

Salad: Gain = High (Low fat and calories, high nutrition, fiber)
Cost = High (Time to buy, prepare and assemble ingredients)
ROI = Fair

Burger: Gain = Low (Probably includes trans fats, low nutrition and fiber)
Cost = Medium (Money)
ROI = Poor

Soup: Gain = High (Good nutrition)
Cost = Medium (Fairly convenient and low cost)
ROI = Good

If you find the best return for the lowest cost, you’ll add to your health net worth. Of course, some health behaviors have a very high cost—a colonoscopy comes to mind—but, like many preventive measures, the benefit is so high, it’s worth it. You’ll also get healthier by eliminating activities that have a high cost and low return, such as harmful exercise. For me, that’s jogging more than a mile since I have to factor in the cost of injury to my weak knees.

Unlike purchasing a stock, health decisions are completely personal, especially for exercise. Jogging isn’t great for me, but it has a high return and low cost for others. Within the five components of physical fitness (cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition, and flexibility), you’ll get the greatest return on the component that you neglect the most. Since I avoid cardio, a brisk walk or bike ride will give me the greatest gain.

Look for high health gains and start with the behaviors that have low cost. You won’t be able to buy groceries or a new purse with your return, but you will be able to spend a few more enjoyable years on this planet.

5 components of physical fitness—Centers for Disease Control,

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Build Your Health Net Worth, Business and the Body, Part 1

(Part 1 of 3 in a Series of Business Principles Applied to Personal Health Status)

Health is more important than money, but money gets more attention in this world. As I’m spending hours to prepare my financial statements and tax records, it occurs to me that this process of taking stock of assets and liabilities can be applied to the realm of wellbeing.

Logic rarely rules matters of health. Instead our fitness behaviors tend to fluctuate like blood sugar, riding on emotional waves of whether we feel like exercising or eating healthy or taking care of ourselves at all. You can control the waves and build your personal health net worth with the good sense of health accounting.

Net worth equals assets minus liabilities. Obviously, you want to expand your health assets and reduce the liabilities. In the financial world, assets include money, real estate, and investments. In terms of health, your assets include your genes and health factors, including lung capacity, bone density, muscle strength, structural alignment, vitamin reserves, and liver health—the type of things your doctor would measure in a physical exam. If your test results aren’t good, these same items turn into health liabilities: high blood pressure or cholesterol and low bone density or lung capacity. Think of liabilities as risks, such as clogged arteries, obesity, and smoking.

Our medical system focuses on finding and changing health liabilities, often with prescription medication as the treatment. Rarely does this turn a liability into an asset though. It’s frequently just an adjustment that makes the health books look balanced.

Creating real assets takes effort, but it doesn’t have to be hard work.

How do you lower blood pressure, increase bone density, and improve structural alignment? It’s no surprise that the answer is being physically active. Not necessarily jogging or doing step aerobics, but keeping your body moving at a moderate level on a regular basis.

Here’s another example. How do you lower LDL cholesterol, maintain a healthy weight, and reduce liver toxicity? If you eliminate trans fats from your diet, such as shortening and partially hydrogenated oils used in many cookies and crackers, you will tip the scales in favor of assets on all three accounts.

(As an interesting aside, the number one health tip on the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease’s web page is to avoid taking unnecessary medications,

When you work toward improving your health, one positive action will produce multiple good results, because health behavior affects many assets at once. It’s as though you are buying a piece of property that will create positive cash flow from the start. Add more assets to the portfolio and you’ll eventually become a health tycoon.

Check in on Wednesday as we evaluate the Return on Investment of several health activities.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Magnesium, an Important Mineral for Muscle Health

The most recent issue of Fibromyalgia Aware magazine (December 2007) includes an extremely interesting article on the importance of magnesium written by Margy Squires. Her well researched piece tells how magnesium deficit coincides with many diseases including arthritis, asthma, chronic pain and fatigue, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, pre-menstrual syndrome, and, of course, fibromyalgia to name a few. An internet search adds to the list with mitral valve prolapse and cerebral palsy.

Magnesium is necessary for the body to produce and coordinate energy production and to synthesize protein, according to a National Institutes of Health website. Energy and protein are the basic components for healthy muscles.

The Trigger Point Manual notes several minerals that are necessary for normal muscle function: calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium. Magnesium helps muscles contract and plays a role in many enzyme reactions—more than 325 reactions according to the National Institutes of Health as noted in Squires’ article.

It’s not surprising that one cause of muscle cramps can be low levels of calcium and magnesium, most of which is stored in the body’s bones. If you experience on-going cramps, it’s a good idea to see your health care provider and get your mineral levels checked.

Muscles aren’t the only beneficiaries of adequate magnesium. Maximizing the Arthritis Cure recommends calcium and magnesium and 7 trace minerals as “important adjuncts to the arthritis cure.” It’s another example of how the body works as an integrated whole. What’s good for the muscles is good for the bones is good for the heart is good for the endocrine system . . . you get the idea.

Foods high in magnesium include dark green vegetables, whole grains, soybeans, halibut, nuts, peaches, apricots, bananas, and avocados. Adult females need 310 milligrams a day and adult males need 400 milligrams. Too much magnesium can cause loose stools (think Milk of Magnesia). Maximizing the Arthritis Cure recommends taking magnesium and calcium together in proportion to minimize intestinal problems.

Fibromyalgia Aware Magazine
National Institutes of Health
Trigger Point Manual (Travell, et al, Williams & Wilkins)
Maximizing the Arthritis Cure (Theodosakis, et al, St. Martin’s)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

New Year's Resolution: Don't Get Hurt

Are you picking up the pace, because it’s a New Year and you’ve set exercise goals? Physical activity is an important part of health, so good for you! However, be careful to avoid injury as you increase the intensity of your activity, especially if you’re transitioning from couch potato to svelte swimsuit model. After all, if you twist a knee, pull a muscle, or strain a ligament, your activity will probably drop back to zero, and you’ll spend more time on the couch or physical therapists’ office and even less in the gym or on the mat. What’s more, it’ll hurt!

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website,, sprains, strains, tendonitis, and bursitis are common sports and fitness injuries. Here are three strategies you can use to avoid them.

Pay Attention
In your fervor to attain a slimmer frame, lower blood pressure, and (my favorite advertising slogan) a strong, sexy core, remember to listen to your body’s messages. Chances are that twinge is a warning signal, not just a random fluctuation. It doesn’t hurt to stop for a moment and evaluate what’s going on inside. Then make adjustments before you keep going—or decide to do something else.

Multi-tasking carries risks. If you’re watching TV or reading a magazine while on the treadmill, you’re zoned out and will miss important signals. Listening to the iPod or MP3 player carries the same risk. To compromise, tune into your body between songs.

Good Form
In The New Rules of Posture, Mary Bond states: “Exercise without body awareness, however, can actually make poor posture worse.” Why? Because exercise reinforces your alignment. Activity done with poor posture strengthens some muscles and leaves others weak. What’s more, bad alignment leaves your joints vulnerable to injury.

Whether you’re on a treadmill, lifting weights, swinging a golf club, doing Pilates, Tai Chi, or yoga, using correct form will give you a better outcome (remember that strong, sexy core?) and reduce your risk of getting hurt. We’re fortunate to have so many fitness professionals to call on: personal trainers, yoga and Pilates teachers, even Structural Integrators and Physical Therapists can help you stay on the right track. An investment of one private session will pay the dividends of increased enjoyment and fewer injuries.

Being in a hurry is the number one cause of my injuries, because I don’t pay attention and avoid good form. But it goes farther than that. When we set unrealistic expectations like six-pack abs, being able to run a 10K, or increase our bench press by 50% in a month, the tendency is to push. Despite the conventional “wisdom” of no-pain, no-gain, more people push themselves into an injury than into superb fitness.

Just keep moving and trust your body to desire more weight, distance, or intensity when the time is right. After all, isn’t it possible that your body’s reluctance to move is related to having been mistreated?

One of my yoga teachers says, “Just show up and do the work without expectation of results.” Even though this goes contrary to all the advertising hype around exercise, it works. Stick to your routine with attention, good form, and patience and you will get stronger, leaner, and healthier.