Keeping Your Back Healthy as You Age

5 ways to help keep your back in "tip top" shape!

It’s inevitable; the clock is ticking, and we are all getting older. In 1960, the average American woman lived to age 73 with men making it just to age 66. Fortunately, American men and women are now living longer (82 for women with men lagging behind at 76) and with a longer life, many of us are trying to remain healthy and active well into our 70s, 80s and even 90s.

Among the parts of our body with the shortest “warranties” is the spine; an extraordinary collection of bones, discs and muscles that keeps us upright and moving. To maximize our chances of remaining active and mobile, as we age; we should focus on a few key preventative issues.

Tip #1: Exercise
No matter how pristine your spine is, you need a strong heart and lungs to pump out fresh blood to keep your organs moving. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes per day of moderately intense aerobic exercise 5 days per week. The inclusion of so-called weight-bearing exercise, along with calcium and vitamin D supplementation, is a critical component to combat the development of bone loss and/or osteoporosis, which can weaken the spine and put you at risk for a broken hip or a spinal fracture. In addition to weight-bearing aerobic exercise, emphasizing core strengthening during exercise (working the belly and back muscles) helps to improve posture and take some of the load on the spine; preserving the “tread on those tires!”

Tip #2: Body Weight
It’s not all about weight loss, but rather maintenance of a reasonable weight. A simple way to get a rough estimate of your “ideal” body weight is the following formula:

  • 50kg (110 pounds for men) or 45kg (99 pounds for women) +2.3kg (5 pounds) for every inch in height over 5 feet.
  • Try to stay within 10% of that number, and you should be in good “shape.” 

Also, remember it’s not just exercise that keeps your weight under control but what you put in your tank that matters; so watch the carbs! The combination of a strong core and not asking your spine to support more pounds than it was designed to do; is a great way to protect your back as time goes by.

Tip #3: Tobacco
Everyone knows that smoking is bad for your lungs and heart, but did you know that smoking can speed up the development of osteoporosis and make your bones more brittle? In addition, tobacco smoke has been associated with loss of the normal water in the spine's discs that can lead to the development of degenerative spinal disc disease and loss of the normal shock-absorbing properties of the spine. This in turn can lead to early spinal arthritis and loss of mobility. The bottom line; smoking is bad for your back.

Tip #4: Diabetes
As a byproduct of our nation’s obesity problem, more than 100 million Americans are either diabetic or at the prediabetic stage. If the problems that diabetes causes in the heart, nerves, brain and eyes were not enough, poor control of blood sugar or glucose (the hallmark of diabetes) has been associated with spinal arthritis (spondylosis) and back pain.

The loss of mobility seen in a patient with a painful spine can set up a vicious cycle of reduced activity and increasing weight gain, which can send blood sugar soaring. If your family doctor has put you on notice about your glucose, be aggressive in getting it under control to protect your spine

Tip #5: The Job
For most of us, going to work is an unpleasant fact of life, but we can work to keep our job from “breaking our back.” Many of us think of those individuals that work at heavy labor as the ones putting their spines at risk, but sedentary office positions can also wreak havoc on our bones and discs. Sitting slumped in front of the computer for hours on end puts a great deal of stress and wear on our neck and low back.

  • Try sitting upright in your chair, shoulders back. 
  • Make sure you get up and move around every 30 minutes or so.
  • Be sure the ergonomics of your workstation  are optimal.
  • Your computer monitor should be at eye level. If not prop it up on a box or a few books.
  • A chair with lumbar support or a pillow at the small of your back will help give you the added cushion your back needs when sitting.
  • Setting your chair height so that your feet can easily reach the ground will also help relieve the strain on your spine.

Keep in Mind
Remember that age is more than a number; it is a relative state of mind. While these tips are certainly no guarantee of avoiding a “bad back”; following these simple steps and using common sense can help minimize your chances of developing spinal troubles and hopefully keep you moving easily and feeling “young” as you age.

To learn about Dr. Ammerman’s practice, click here.        


Updated on: 09/20/16
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