In 1970, the average United States citizen spent $356 on healthcare. This figure rose to $8,402 by 2010. When ranked as a percentage of GDP, healthcare costs were 7.2% in 1970 and 18% in 2010 (1). As you can see, healthcare costs have risen tremendously over the years. It is therefore in all or our financial best interests to take care of our bodies. Here are five such things that you should probably do every single day; things that will help you maintain proper functioning and prevent costly medical expenses later on in life.
Why it’s a good idea: The deep squat will help you maintain your hip flexion mobility (a technical way of saying that you’ll retain the ability to squat all the way down) throughout life. The deep squat is performed much more commonly in many Asian and Middle East countries and requires 95-130 degrees of hip flexion and 110-165 degrees of knee flexion (which is a lot of range of motion) (2,3). If you use this ability, you’ll keep it. If you don’t, however, you’ll lose it. Dr. Stuart McGill started performing this drill daily and credits it for helping him retain his hip function and prevent hip replacement surgery (4). If you’re a lifter, you want to retain your deep squat ability, as it’s been shown to lead to greater vertical jump transfer, quadricep and hamstring hypertrophy, glute activation, hip extension torque, postactivation potentiation, and deep squat strength compared to shallower squatting (5-10).
What to do: You don’t want to use extra loading on this drill, so no dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbells. Just squat all the way down as deep as you can go with your own body weight and remain flat-footed (don’t come up onto the toes). Now, with loaded squatting, it’s imperative that you prevent the lumbar spine from excessive rounding. But with the bodyweight deep squat, it’s okay to relax and let the spine sink down into the stretch. Hang out in the deep squat position for 30 seconds then rise back up. Just do this one time.
Why it’s a good idea: The majority of great strength coaches including Michael Boyle, Mark Verstegen, Eric Cressey, and Mike Robertson started noticing several years back an alarming trend – clients even athletes were showing up to the weight-room with weak and poorly activating glutes. Dr. Stu McGill even coined this phenomenon “gluteal amnesia” (11). These same strength coaches have been able to cure this “amnesia” with some basic low-load exercises. In fact, a recent study showed that prescribing isometric glute squeezes to patients who suffered from spinal cord injuries increased their usage of the glutes during gait which enabled them to walk faster (12). Your glutes are likely not functioning to their full extent, and simply performing a maximal glute contraction each day will go a long way in allowing them to retain (or even build) their neuromuscular capacity. The gluteus maximus transfers force throughout the body, compensates for other muscles when needed, and protects the SI joint, low back, knees, ACL, hamstrings, and anterior hips from pain and injury (13-23). By working on his glute function, Dr. Stu McGill was able to improve his posture, reduce hip labrum spurs, and prolong his hip replacement surgery (4). As you can see, you want to retain your glute mass and neural drive as you age.
What to do: From a standing position, take a moderate to wide stance and flare the feet out slightly. Now squeeze the glutes as hard as possible for 30 seconds. Make “fists” to increase the neural drive through irradiation. Just do this one time.
Why it’s a good idea: Stretching in general is euphoric and good for reducing anxiety and improving well-being (24). If the hamstrings are tight, it’ll negatively impact the way an individual picks objects off the ground during stoop lifting. Stretching the hamstrings will immediately improve their stoop lifting mechanics by decreasing spinal motion and increasing hip motion (25). Lifters with excessively tight hamstrings are more susceptible to deadlifting injuries. Tight hamstrings also contribute to plantar fascitiis (26-28). As you can see, you don’t want your hamstrings getting tight over the years.
What to do:
There are many good hamstring stretches, including ones that can be performed in the standing, supine, and seated position, so just pick one that you’re most comfortable performing. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds on each side.
Why it’s a good idea: Our society has become increasingly sedentary over the years, and this sedentarism is not so good for low back pain and function (29). And all the prolonged sitting we do is generally not very good for back pain either (30-31). The typical desk-worker is slumped over with a rounded spine and rounded shoulders, along with a forward head position. We want to “undo” this posture by stretching the shortened muscles and strengthening the lengthened muscles. Rest assured, the crucifix stretch achieves both of these criteria.
What to do:
Stand tall and place the arms out to the sides. Simultaneously extend the spine by picking the chest up and externally rotating the shoulders by pointing the thumbs behind you. Keep the head and neck in a neutral or packed position (which resembles a double-chin). Hold this position for 3 seconds and repeat 5-10 times.
Why it’s a good idea: People these days are too stressed out! Increasing responsibilities and pressure takes its toll by negatively impacting our neuroendocrine, metabolic, and immune systems (32). This stress impacts the way we breathe. In fact, upper chest breathers exhibit poor cardiovascular efficiency and nervous system balance (33). The good news is that breathing retraining is very effective, and by practicing various breathing techniques, you can reduce anxiety, reduce oxidative stress, improve quality of life, achieve better balance of the parasympathetic and sympathetic divisions of the autonomic nervous systems, reduce blood pressure, and reduce resting heart rate (34-41). In short, it’s well worth it to spend a few minutes per day on specialized breathing techniques.
What to do: There are many effective breathing methods that you can experiment with. Here’s one that I really like. Lay down and place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Relax all of your muscles and begin breathing deep. Pull air into your belly first and then into your chest. If you do it correctly, you’ll feel the hand on your belly rise for the first two-thirds of the breath, then the hand on your chest will rise for the last-third of the breath. Make sure your exhalation lasts longer than your inhalation; ideally around twice as long. Do this for 3-5 minutes.
These five activities will only take up 6-8 minutes of your day but will likely do wonders in terms of longevity and well-being in later years of life. Take care of your body and do the small things that count!
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