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Physical Activity and Exercise for a Healthier Spine

Exercise to Prevent Back Pain and Obesity

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Osteoporosis
Regular exercise can improve your balance, reflexes and coordination. This means you are less likely to fall and injure yourself. Injuries from falling can mean disaster to someone with osteoporosis.

If you have osteoporosis, seek the advice of your doctor before beginning an exercise program. To help reverse bone loss, exercise must be of a particular type and intensity - and appropriate for your level of fitness and fracture risk.

In general, walking is a great way to start regular exercise. Initially, walking will improve bone strength because it causes some of the body's weight to be transferred to bones over and over again. However, bone responds best to intensity not duration. Bone needs to be consistently challenged. This can be accomplished by adding different types of weight-bearing activities (dancing, skating, and aerobics) and strength/weight training (also called resistance training) to your program. Adding greater levels of resistance causes healthy stress to bone. Bone responds by making more osteoblasts; the cellular material that fills in bone cavities that increases bone density (3).

Osteoarthritis (OA) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are conditions that affect the 'flexibility' of spinal joints (facet joints). Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move through its range of motion. The amount of movement is largely determined by the tightness of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that attach to the facet joints. The more a muscle can stretch, the better the flexibility of the joint.

Low Back Pain: Sciatica
To help prevent low back pain the leg, back and hip muscles must be flexible and strong. Poor flexibility and weak muscles in the back, pelvis, and thighs can increase the curve of the lower back and cause the pelvis to tilt too far forward. Good posture coupled with flexible and strong muscles in these areas can help prevent nerve compression and low back and leg pain.

General Health
Healthy body composition means a high proportion of lean body mass (eg, muscle) to a small proportion of fat. Strength training can help by raising the metabolic rate and lowering body fat. Increased muscle strength helps to maintain good posture and body mechanics during activity. Not only does good physical conditioning reduce the chance of injury but increases physical performance such as climbing stairs or carrying groceries with ease.

Back Pain Exercise Video Series

Exercise: Helpful Suggestions
Now that you have learned about many of the benefits a regular program of exercise offers, you need to work exercise into your new healthier lifestyle.

  • Be realistic! It can take 6 to 8 weeks to see some of the benefits; focus on short-term goals. 
  • You may need to buy out time from other activities to add exercise to your schedule.
  • Ask a friend or relative to join you in exercise.
  • If you don't feel like an entire workout - exercise for 10 minutes. Consistency is important - not how long or hard the exercise. 
  • Keep a written record of your progress.

You will reap rich rewards from the healthy changes you make today in food choices and implementation of regular exercise. You do not have to be thin to be healthy. In fact, a reduction in weight of just 10% can reduce the detrimental effects of obesity.

Many organizations and research facilities are working to learn more about obesity. In the last few decades great progress has been made in identifying the causes as well as making new treatments available.

Updated on: 05/02/14
Dana L. Davis, MPT
This article was reviewed by Dana L. Davis, MPT.
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Back Pain and Obesity

Being overweight or obese can significantly contribute to symptoms associated with back pain. In some instances, it can even lead to developing a spinal condition because of the effects the extra weight has on your body.
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