You hear lots of talk about getting into shape for summer but when we talk about it at the Virginia Spine Institute — we’re not talking about your weight or tan. We talk about focusing on your health to make sure your back is in good shape.
When you think of summer — you think of being active. Heading to the beach. Swimming. Spending lots of time outside. But getting in summer shape means getting your back ready too for all the exercise and activities we do outside in the summer including outdoor exercise, lugging things to the beach, traveling longer distances for car trips, and more. So let’s review how to set health and wellness goals this summer that support your overall wellness AND your back health.
Data shows that 74 percent of the population sets lifestyle changes like New Year’s Resolutions but we all know that the January rush at the gym starts to thin by February and is long forgotten by this point in the year. So as you revisit your fitness goals mid-year, you want to think about what is practical and reasonable in making changes in your life.
Reaching for the stars is great but usually not sustainable. Instead, make small adjustments to your habits to evolve yourself. It can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Use an activity tracker to give you feedback so you can set a benchmark on your steps or exercise. Parking further from a grocery store rather than trying to get a close spot. Spend more time with your kids or dog by going out for walks instead of parking in front of the TV.
You need to decide where to put in the time when there is never enough time. If you work normal daytime hours, then decide if you can wake up early or wait until the evening to exercise.
My husband and I are full-time healthcare providers with 2 kids under 5 years old. Between our careers, our evening routine, and the kids’ activities, we have to hold each other accountable. We see in our patients what a lack of a healthy lifestyle can do. We want to grow old together- healthy and happy. We also want to be good examples for our sons of what it’s like to prioritize health and wellness!
Often people push it too far, hurt their back or neck, and they back off and are afraid to do certain exercises after that. So what’s the best way to start, re-start, or re-commit to a summer fitness regimen from a spinal health perspective?
This is something I share with my patients all the time. I keep an exercise mat in my bedroom and in our living room. I have a Tabata timer on my phone. It’s a free app that can be used as a timer for exercise. It is set for 20 seconds of exercise and 10 seconds of rest. But you can set it for any range of time you like.
If you’ve struggled with neck or back pain in the past, you have likely been to physical therapy and learned basic core exercises. Pick 4–5 and do them every day — plank, dead bug, bird-dog, side plank, hollow holds, bear crawl. Start with simple bodyweight exercises and do them every day; twice a day even. Commit minutes to yourself and it will be validating. From there, you can add more time. There are so many resources out there from your physical therapist, YouTube, and online apps or memberships. Find what works for you and gives you joy.
It is known that your body and mind run better and feels better depending on what you put in them. It’s also important to note that as we get older our metabolism slows down. People try to eat very little but see no results. Nutrition and physical activity go hand in hand as we age. Eating fewer starches and carbs, more lean protein, and healthy fruit and vegetables needs to be a consistent diet.
Also, commit to exercising and you will see and feel the results. You need to build muscle to burn fat. You need to walk long enough or commit to strength training. Then, you can allow yourself to indulge in things that you enjoy.
Most of us love food. I am a foodie! Food gives me joy. But you need self-discipline and to enjoy it in moderation. If you want Italian, eat a salad, then half the entree; save the rest for later. If you want dessert, split it with someone. You need to put in the work before you can benefit from the reward.
Personally, I never committed myself to exercise until I started having children. Wanting to lose my pregnancy weight and focusing on my mental health became a priority. I started doing more strength training exercises this year and I feel it’s paid off. I see and feel the results and it’s addicting and rewarding.
I am also a happier human being for myself, my husband, and my children. My goal this summer is simply to stick to it. Maintaining my motivation and commitment is my ongoing goal. No matter if I have surgery or clinic all day, evening classes for the kids, or date night with my husband, I’ve prioritized 5:00 AM or 9:00 PM.
Committing that time for myself is a key part of my successful summer and I trust it can be part of yours too.
Thao Allen, PA-C is a surgical Physician Assistant at the Virginia Spine Institute, where she’s been part of the team since 2010.
Virginia Spine Institute’s reputation is unmatched as a world-renowned luxury destination in spinal healthcare, dedicated to providing an elevated level of concierge care for those suffering from neck and back conditions. For three decades, their proven methods have led them to dramatically improving the quality of life for over 100,000 patients, from 32 countries.
People seek care from Virginia Spine Institute because of their elite team of board-certified spine-specialized physicians offering unique approaches to safe and effective back and neck pain relief. As one of the few centers that begin treatment with non-surgical options before recommending surgery, 90% of their patients get better without spine surgery. Through a comprehensive model, Virginia Spine Institute is able to offer regenerative medicine, non-operative treatments, minimally-invasive spine surgery, and physical therapy through their team of spine specialists.
The team’s dedication to detail and patient success is a shining light in the field of spinal healthcare. As pioneers and leaders in this field, they have also accomplished many of the world’s firsts in spine surgery by using modern treatments and cutting-edge technology not offered anywhere else.