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Advice From A Spine Surgeon: The Secret To A Healthier And Happier Life

Authored by Dr. Thomas Schuler, MD, FACS, FAAOS. February 10, 2023

As the new year kicks off, we find ourselves tweaking healthy habits and lifestyle routines to optimize our overall wellness and happiness. Finding happiness seems to be elusive for many people, but the answer comes from within. As a spine surgeon over the past three decades, my job is to improve people’s lives and provide them with a life without neck or back pain. I have seen first-hand the linkage between good spinal health and positive well-being.

I have found the easiest way to increase happiness and health is through an appropriate fitness program. In fact, people that are physically fit exhibit lower rates of anxiety and depression and higher rates of self-esteem compared to sedentary individuals. Active adults achieve these improvements by both physiological changes such as lowering visceral fat and cortisol levels, as well as psychological means including the involvement of greater self-control and competence. We get an endorphin release from exercising, which is a mood improver.  Increased fitness will ultimately lead to improved oxygenation of the tissues in our brain and allows us to be more alert and awake. Moving also causes us to change our environment, which is very positive, for getting out of the blues and funk. As we get older, bodies go through degeneration but that does not mean that the quality of life needs to diminish. We know to expect as a person who grows older for their hair to turn gray, which is a sign of the structural change that is occurring within the cells of the body, but how we minimize this change and degeneration is to keep on moving. The old adage that a rolling stone gathers no moss could not be truer for how we should live as we grow older. It is much more critical, especially beyond the age of 50 for us to be exercising and moving on a daily basis. The keys that we need to focus on are: the need to be flexible, strength training, cardiovascular endurance and stimulation, and balance. These four things ultimately improve our overall fitness and well-being, while achieving improved mental outlook and overall happiness.

Age-related degeneration cannot be avoided, but the loss of our ability to function and our capacity to do things results in more from disuse or lack of activity than from age. Also by maintaining appropriate body weight, fitness, and tissue mobility, we are able to avoid many secondary chronic medical problems that can accelerate as we get older if we are not constantly working to prevent or treat them. The stress of physical activity has been linked to decreased health issues but also improved life expectancy.

The bottom line is that we can live a longer, healthier, happier, and better quality of life by moving. This consists of an exercise program on a daily basis of 30 minutes to an hour and rotating to different activities. Walking alone is not the answer and doing strength training alone is not the answer, but a combination spread over different days of appropriate flexibility and stretching, strength training, and aerobic and anaerobic activities while also working on balance. These will lead to the best quality of life and the most enjoyable quality of life.

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About The Author

Dr. Thomas Schuler, MD, FACS, FAAOS

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