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Life Kit: How to 'futureproof' your body and relieve pain

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So are you sitting right now? Not trying to sound like your mom, but how's your posture? It is true that bad posture can be at the root of some of our aches and pains, but the good news is you can get ahead of some of that discomfort. That's what future-proofing your body is all about. Frank Festa with NPR's Life Kit is here to walk us through how we can start doing that today.

FRANK FESTA, BYLINE: I used to try to find every excuse I could to skip getting a stretch in, and for a long time, I couldn't really understand what exactly makes it so important. Isn't stretching kind of like a reactive thing? You know, like you're supposed to do it when you get hurt or when you feel a little tightness or something.

VINH PHAM: Being proactive will ensure that you can have a long and healthy life, ensure that you can play with your grandchildren, ensure that you can do things and move well, well, well into the golden age.

FESTA: That's Vinh Pham, a licensed physical therapist with over a decade of experience and the author of the recently released "Sit Up Straight: Futureproof Your Body Against Chronic Pain With 12 Simple Movements." Pham compares how we take care of our bodies to how we take care of our cars.

PHAM: When the hazard light goes on, you're kind of like, oh, I'll keep driving until it really starts to - yeah, until there's, like, a sound or the motor sounds weird, or, like, things just literally just stop working, you know? And even worse, with our body, it's the same thing. A lot of people will walk through pain or, you know, just move on until they literally are debilitated.

FESTA: Pham believes that adopting a daily routine, which he calls a posture hygiene plan, can help prepare our bodies for the natural wear and tear they accumulate throughout a lifetime.

PHAM: Every morning you wake up. You brush your teeth. When it comes to your hair, shampoo, conditioner. But when it comes to our ankle, our knee, our hip, our back, what do we do on a regular basis to maintain it?

FESTA: You wouldn't wait for cavities and plaque to tell you it's time to start brushing your teeth, right? A patient's posture is the north star of how Pham goes about treating them, and he says that good posture...

PHAM: ...Should be effortless. The second part is it should be aligned and well balanced. So when you're standing, you should feel like you're not leaning more on one leg versus the other.

FESTA: And for when you're sitting, you want to keep your feet flat on the floor, both your knees and your hips in 90-degree angles, all in line with your lumbar spine and shoulders. Beginning a posture hygiene plan starts with understanding where we stand, and we mean that literally here. Pham's got a trick for that.

PHAM: You basically want to take your phone, put it in selfie mode, set up on the desk. And essentially you can put a self-timer.

FESTA: Take a couple steps back, and snap a few pictures, one facing the camera, another away from it and one to your left and to your right so you can get a quick overview of your posture. Try to notice, looking at those pictures, where you might be slouching or if you might be favoring one side over the other. This will give you a sense of which exercises are the highest priority for you. Here's one to get you started.

PHAM: All you want to do is going to take your arms outstretched - right? - out the side like a cross symbol. You're going to turn your palms up, and you're basically going to try to make your palms face the wall behind you.

FESTA: Reverse that position with your arms outstretched as far in front of you as you can bring them with your palms facing out. Hold these positions for a few seconds each, and flow between them at least 10 times. And remember, perfection isn't the goal here.

PHAM: The more you go towards spending 80% of your time with good habits and good posture, you know, you can get away with 20% of the time having a cheat position here and there.

FESTA: Adopting a proactive mindset is what we're after here, and investing in some basic easy-to-implement maintenance like Pham suggests will give you a better chance at a pain-free life. Future you will thank you. For NPR News, I'm Frank Festa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Festa