By Lisa Camerlengo

When considering how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, your spine is likely not your primary focus. But according to Dr. Kenneth Hansraj (“Dr. Ken”), renowned orthopedic and spinal surgeon and author of Keys to an Amazing Life: Secrets of the Cervical Spine, it should be. In fact, he points out, approximately 80 percent of us have or will have a spinal problem in our lifetimes.

“While we exercise our abs and legs, we need to also be aware of our spinal health and take strengthening our spines just as seriously,” he explains. “Stress, lack of sunshine and vitamin D all play a role.”

Here, Dr. Ken shares his top tips and techniques for building a healthier and stronger spine with improved posture – which will help avoid unnecessary and painful surgeries:

Deep Belly Breathing: Place your hands on your belly and feel it move as you inhale and exhale. This enables your nerves to move well in the spinal channels, takes stress off the spine and, according to studies, diminishes levels of stress hormone, cortisol, by up to 30 percent. Perform this technique throughout the day, if possible.

Workplace Design and Ergonomics: The workplace can take a heavy toll on your spine. Pay attention to your back’s position in your chair. If you are hunching, leaning frequently or find yourself squinting at the monitor, you will need to make adjustments so that your body is not compensating.

Sunlight and Daylight: Be sure to get enough exposure to sunlight to keep your body’s master clock functioning optimally. People with sufficient exposure to daylight are awakened by a combination of hormones causing them to stand up straighter and focus more on their spine and posture.

Nap and Meditation: Between 2 to 4 p.m., your brain needs a nap. Napping is beneficial in restoring alertness, boosting mood, improving productivity and prolonging life. With deep rest, you are better able to achieve good posture of the spine and are inclined to have better focus, enhancing overall performance.

Exercise Is Medicine: Getting at least 2-3 hours of exercise per week is ideal. Walking is fantastic, since it works the spinal nerves and the spinal facet joints, which are just as important as hip and knee joints and need to be moved just as often for optimal spinal health.

Wholesome Diet: Be thoughtful about what you eat. Dr. Ken says a high-protein diet (organic meats) and fresh vegetables are best, along with a daily multivitamin, vitamin B complex, Omega-3, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to improve the metabolism of hip, knee and facet joints. He also suggests avoiding “emotional” eating and planning meals in advance to outsmart temptation to binge.