If you’ve ever suffered from back problems, then you know that chronic pain can make exercise feel intimidating. However, you also probably know that back pain can easily become a vicious cycle: Pain makes us feel as though we should rest, which eventually leads to a tight and inflexible back, which leads to more back pain. Many people are surprised to find that regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to stop this cycle.

Most Americans don’t get enough exercise.

In fact, according to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, only one-third of American adults are getting the recommended amount of exercise per week.

Unfortunately, a growing waistline isn’t the only side-effect of a sedentary lifestyle. Among other health concerns, a lack of regular movement in day-to-day life also contributes to poor spine health, including back pain and problems with posture.

If you’re experiencing back problems, exercise could be the missing ingredient.

In combination with other treatments, regular exercise can often be a great way to reduce back pain. Not only does exercise increase flexibility and strengthen the muscles that are responsible for helping us maintain our posture, but it also confers a host of lesser-known benefits. In terms of pain relief, many of us know that exercise releases endorphins, which dull pain and give us a sense of well-being. However, many people don’t know that exercise also decreases inflammation. Inflammation can lead to swelling and pain, which is why it’s essential to keep overall inflammation levels low.

In addition to relieving pain, movement benefits the back by circulating nutrients to the spinal discs and other structures. This helps keep the spine in optimal health. Furthermore, light impact exercises such as walking help build bone density, which is important in preventing spinal fractures.

Try adding exercises that target back health.

If you’re exercising to improve the health of your back, then you’ll likely want to focus on exercises that increase flexibility and build the strength of the muscles that support the spine.

Core Exercises. Crunches, pelvic tilts, leg lifts, and other core-building exercises will strengthen the muscles necessary for maintaining good posture.

Stretching. Keeping muscles flexible is essential for keeping back pain at bay. In particular, stretching hamstrings and gluteal muscles is important for easing back pain.

If you have a back condition or other health concern, speak with a healthcare professional before adding new exercises to your routine

Don’t force yourself to push through painful exercise.

As you plan your exercise routine, keep in mind that certain some movements carry an increased risk of back injury. Heavy lifting, for example, can lead to strained muscles. It’s also possible to pull muscles and strain ligaments by over-stretching the back. And depending on the state of your back, high-impact sports such as running can exacerbate back pain. Exercise shouldn’t make back pain worse, so don’t push yourself if a movement doesn’t feel right for you. If you’re ever in doubt about whether an exercise is safe for your back, consult with a health care professional.

Take your time building exercise into your daily routine.

Many people find it tempting to “make up” for lost exercise time by sporadically engaging in high-intensity exercise. However, irregular exercise can actually do more harm than good if your body isn’t conditioned for exercise. Exercise doesn’t need to be intense in order to be effective; even half an hour of brisk walking per day will benefit your back as well as your overall health.

If you’re not already exercising on a regular basis, speak with a healthcare provider about what you can do to get more exercise and movement into your life.

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