Better weather tends to encourage people to become more active at home as well as on the playing field. After a long winter of being confined inside, we all look forward to airing out the house, getting our gardens ready, straightening out the garage, start those household projects or perhaps work on our golf game.
The problem is that most American adults are overweight and don’t exercise enough, particularly in the winter. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 70.7% of American adults are either overweight or obese (BMI >25). This is compounded by the fact that 80% of American adults don’t get the minimum recommended weekly exercise of 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity or 1.25 vigorous aerobic activity (CDC survey, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 3, 2013)
What this means is that most of us are out of shape particularly in our backs. In order to minimize back pain, it is important to have well conditioned back and abdominal muscles. What does this mean? These muscles should be toned and lose from regular exercise and stretching. A recent NIH study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (October 24, 2011) showed that engaging in regular yoga or stretching classes under a licensed therapist significantly improved back pain and function.
So, unless we are in the 20% who exercise regularly and are not overweight, we should be particularly mindful of the following:
- Start slow - Whether it’s playing golf or planting your garden, start at a low level and gradually work up to a full level.
- Be mindful of using proper lifting techniques - Bend your hips and knees and engage your core. Keep objects as close to your core as possible. But best of all, try to not lift those heavy objects but if you must, get some help
- Avoid prolonged sitting in the car or at work - Sitting exerts the highest amount of stress on the discs in your back compared to standing or lying down. Sitting leaning forward or without proper back support in particular exert undue stress in our discs. Therefore, use a chair with good back support and try to keep you reading materials or computer monitor at a comfortable eye level to minimize leaning forward. Get up every 20 minutes or so to give your discs and back muscles a break.
- Stay off ladders, trees or roofs - This is especially important for us aged 65 years or over. Even though Americans are living longer and tend to be healthier at 65 than in years past, statistically this age group still has a 60X higher mortality rate when suffering a spine cord injury. And falling is the most common cause of spinal cord injuries in this age group.
- Be careful driving - Overall, motor vehicle accidents is the most common cause of spinal cord injuries accounting for 35% of the cases.