Exercise and other kinds of physical activity can go far in keeping your body strong and healthy, able to fight disease, and ward off injuries from pulling, pushing, and lifting. A healthy and fit body also generally recovers faster from injury and pain.
In general, there are three basic types of exercise: strengthening, stretching, and aerobic.
Here’s a brief description:
- Strengthening exercises focus on the abdominal and back muscles because these play a key role in supporting your spine and maintaining good posture.
- Stretching exercises target the soft tissues in your legs and surrounding your spine. These muscles provide flexibility you need to move and get around.
- Aerobic exercises foster a strong and healthy heart and lung function. These kinds of exercises generally involve large muscle groups.
- Other kinds of mild exercises include those that help you correct or maintain good posture (with a focus on the neck and back) and ease tension from prolonged periods of sitting.
- Lie flat on your stomach. Raise one arm at a time. Hold for 5 counts, then slowly lower. Do 20 repetitions for each arm.
- Try raising one leg at a time. Hold for 5 counts, then slowly lower. Do 20 repetitions for each leg. Advanced versions of this exercise involve raising both legs or arms simultaneously
- Bend your elbows.
- Slowly press your elbows straight back, squeezing the shoulder blades together.
- Hold 5 counts. Do 20 repetitions.
- Tuck in your chin.
- Push your head back against your hands or the floor (if your are lying on your back).
- Hold 5 counts. Do 20 repetitions.
Alternate or extension:
- Place your hand on the side of your head.
- Tuck in your chin and push your head to the side, against your hand. Hold 3 to 5 counts. Do 10 to 20 repetitions.
Strong abdominal muscles may actually prevent you from incurring a back injury, since these muscles are so critical to maintaining your spine’s position, as well as assisting you with lifting.
Strong abdominals can also lower, minimize, or avoid back pain from excessive strains, help your body deal with sudden bouts of stress, and play an important role in healing after spine surgery or a debilitating back injury.
Here is a simple exercise for strengthening your abdominals:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and tilt your pelvis backward, pushing your lower back toward the floor.
- Hold 5 seconds, then relax.
- Do 20 repetitions.
Pilates is an exercise program named after Joseph Pilates, who developed an exercise program in the early-20th century to improve the physical fitness of World War I soldiers. Pilates incorporated resistance into programs for rehabilitating injured patients. He later incorporated springs into exercise machines, which became the foundation of the famous Pilates equipment used today.
Pilates centers on rehabilitating and strengthening key muscles involved in posture. At the heart of the Pilates program is the belief that keeping the spine in its natural, or neutral, position can help mitigate and even prevent back pain. Key components of the Pilates exercise system include:
- A mental focus intended to improve movement efficiency and muscle control
- Awareness of the importance of keeping the spine neutral
- Breathing techniques that promote mental focusing and centering
- Strengthening deep back and abdominal muscles to support posture
The Pilates equipment uses springs to create resistance. At the heart of the Pilates system is a device called the “Reformer” that consists of a sliding platform anchored at one end of its frame with springs. The platform is moved by either pulling on ropes or pushing off from a stationary bar. A second Pilates device, called the “Cadillac” consists of a padded base, over which a frame-like structure is suspended with bars, straps, and other accessories hanging down. A third Pilates device, called the Wunda Chair is a small bench that uses a bar attached with springs. Exercises are done by pushing on the bar while either sitting or standing on the bench, or standing or lying on the floor.