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Keeping Your Back Healthy With Exercise

A growing number of adults spend the majority of their time each day sitting behind a desk while working on a computer. And when not in an office setting, many add hours of sedentary time to their week in the form of watching TV, reading, scrolling through their phone and tablet, etc.

All of this sitting in a fixed position can really take a toll on your spine and back, contributing to poor posture, loss of flexibility, pain, stiffness, and other issues.

By the time most adults reach middle age, they require an exercise and stretching routine that can help them continue to feel mobile, energetic, and young.

Incorporating specific movements into your routine that add strength to your core muscles and stability to your spine is a must if you want to preserve your overall physical health as you age.

How Exercise Benefits Your Back

Why is back pain such a prevalent problem, especially among those who work in office settings? Some of the most common underlying causes of back pain include:

  • Spending too much time hunched over with poor posture

  • A generally sedentary lifestyle

  • Too little stretching which leads to stiffness

  • Repetitive movements that can aggravate the spine

  • Being overweight

  • Injuries and accidents that cause stress to discs and vertebrae

  • Breakdown in the disks of your spin, such as due to inflammation, degenerative disc diseases, smoking, or old age

  • Sleeping in positions that can strain certain muscles (sleep deprivation and insomnia can also contribute to pain)

  • Exercising with poor form, and without warming up or stretching

Particularly among people who spend their workday sitting — often with poor posture, meaning their shoulders are slouched and their head is tilted forward — they're likely to be shortening their hip flexors, decreasing strength in their glutes, and causing compression on the discs in their spine. All of these factors can limit mobility in the torso and back and lead to premature degeneration of the spinal discs.

Keeping up with a well-rounded exercise routine — ideally, one that includes some strength training, aerobic exercise, and stretching — can be highly beneficial for your back because exercise helps:

  • Improve stability in the muscles around your spine, which reduces pressure from the spinal discs and facet joints.

  • Strengthen your core abdominal muscles, which improves your posture.

  • Improve the ability of your spine to withstand stress, which lowers the risk for injury.

  • Maintain a healthy weight, which takes the pressure off of your back, especially aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, swimming, and biking.

  • Release "feel good" endorphins, which can naturally relieve pain.

  • Prevent stiffness due to inactivity.

  • Boost circulation.

  • Keep inflammation under control.

In addition to completing certain sketches and exercises that target your back and core, another helpful habit is to prevent yourself from sitting too long by setting a timer for 20- or 30-minute breaks throughout the day. After about 20 minutes, make a point to stand up, move around and perhaps walk a little or stretch.

The Best Preventative Exercises for Back Health

An effective exercise program for maintaining a healthy back should focus on the core muscles, including those surrounding the spine, the abdominal muscles, the gluteus, as well as the pelvic floor and hip muscles.

For the best results, try to complete a series of back-strengthening exercises, such as those described below, 2 or 3 times each week.

Here are some of the best back exercises to build strength in your core, prevent back pain and maintain the health of your spine:

  • Wall sits: Lean back against a wall and slide down until your knees are slightly bent. Press your lower back into the wall, hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then lift and repeat at least 10 times.

  • Partial crunches: Laying on your back with your knees bent, put your hands behind your neck, tighten your core and raise your shoulders off the floor slightly as you hold for two seconds (try not to crunch your neck). Slowly lower down and repeat 8 to 12 times.

  • Back extensions: Lie on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders, gently press away from the floor and lift your shoulders and chest. Hold for several seconds, return to the ground and repeat 5 to 10 times.

  • Glute bridges: Lie on your back with knees bent, tighten your stomach, lift your hips and pelvis off the floor, and hold for 5 to 10 seconds with knees hip-distance apart. Lower and repeat 10 times.

  • Bird-dogs: Get on your hands and knees, extend one leg straight behind you while keeping your hips level, then hold for 5 seconds. Switch sides and repeat 10 times.

  • Leg lifts: Lie on your back and bend one knee. Lift your straight leg about 6 inches off the ground while keeping your lower back flat on the floor, then hold for 10 seconds. Repeat each leg 10 times.

  • Downward-dog: Get into an upside down-V position. Press through your hands and lift your hips back and up while engaging your core. Hold for 30 seconds or longer, then break and repeat several times daily.

  • Other types of strengthening and stretching exercises that can be beneficial for your back include pilates, yoga, Tai chi, weight lifting, and using resistance bands or a BOSU ball.

While a little bit of discomfort is to be expected if you're new to exercising, you shouldn't feel pain in your back that lasts more than 15 minutes during exercise. If this continues, talk to your doctor and ask about an evaluation to make sure exercise is safe.

Also avoid exercising if you're suddenly dealing with strong, acute back pains, and instead visit a doctor to limit any further injury.


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