Aerobic exercise is any kind of continuous activity that lasts for more than 20 minutes, and increases the blood supply and oxygen delivery to all of your tissues. Aerobic exercise is one of the most beneficial things that you can do for your entire body. Thankfully, it does wonders for the spine as well. Research shows that it markedly decreases chronic pain, including pain from your neck and back. People who are aerobically fit have much less pain than people who are not.
We recommend that you exercise until you are slightly short of breath and working up a sweat. You should be able to carry a few-word conversation but not be able to sing a song. Maintain this slightly short of breath state for at least 20 minutes, ideally more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week and 2 or more days a week of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups for weight maintenance; this time increases for weight loss. Such an endorsement for physical activity stems from the well documented health benefits from regular exercise.
Exercise is a wonderful way to give yourself and emotional lift or to burn off stress from a hectic day. Physical activity stimulates the release of various brain chemicals that can leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. When you exercise, your body puts out chemicals called endorphins. These are naturally occurring morphine-like substances that the body produces in response to pain. Endorphins are the substance that probably give marathon runners a “runner’s high”. This natural pain killing substance is produced in large amounts in people who exercise on a regular basis. In addition, regular aerobic exercise improves your cardiovascular function. Your heart works more efficiently as a pump, and your body begins building new blood vessels to supply the muscles, bones, and joints. One of the reasons why you get pain when you have arthritis is that there is not enough oxygen delivered to the bones, joints and cartilage in-between the bones. If you exercise on a regular basis, oxygen delivery to these arthritic joints is improved, and therefore, pain is diminished. We see many patients who avoided surgery on their neck or back as a result of taking up vigorous aerobic exercise as a means to combat their pain.
If you exercise on a regular basis, you will find that you will need less sleep, work efficiently, have sustained energy, experience less pain, and be in a better mood. Exercise brings positive changes to all aspects of your life. Control your weight through exercise as it helps you to reach and maintain a healthy weight by increasing your metabolism. Exercise promotes better sleep to help you fall asleep faster and deeper with less interruptions. Studies also suggest that exercising can combat daytime sleepiness so you can be a more productive person at work or at home. Just remember not to work out too close to your bedtime or you may be too energized to fall asleep! Physical improvements in muscle strength and tone, endurance, and cardiovascular function can all enhance sexual functioning in both men and women.
Exercise is prevention. Combat health conditions and diseases with exercise. Exercise has been shown to improve mental function, decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s, increase stamina and bone density, and elevate mood. Regular physical activity can help prevent or manage a wide range of health problems including Cardiovascular Disease, Stroke, Metabolic Syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, Arthritis, Depression and reduce risk for some cancers. Physical activity can reduce the risk of breast, colon, endometrial, lung and prostate cancer.
Remember not all physical activity needs to take place in the confines of a gym. You can “sneak” physical activity into your daily routine by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking on your lunch break, or even parking farther away from your entrance to work or the grocery store. We recommend all forms of low-impact cardiovascular fitness. High impact activities such as running, plyometrics, repetitive jumping cause additional strain on your spinal discs.
Bicycling is a great way to stay in shape! You can bike on a trail or road outside and soak up some Vitamin D while you're at it or ride indoors at home or the gym with a stationary bike. Additional lumbar support is available is seated reclined bikes. If you are new to bicycling, remember that bicycling does not provide great conditioning of the back muscles. For some people, poor posture on the bike can increase strain on the neck or low back. Back strengthening exercises and core strengthening are important to do with your fitness routine to prevent injury. If you are riding your bike over rough terrain or over long distances, increased jarring and compression can affect the discs in the spine, which can also cause back pain. In order to prevent back pain or injuries when bicycling it is important to choose the best bicycle for your purpose. When choosing a bicycle, getting the advice of an experienced rider or a professional bicycle shop can ensure that you have the best bike for your body and your riding style. For more tips read Dr. Good's post.
Swimming is a wonderful whole body work-out and is the most low-impact environment we have to work-out in. Swimming will help you build cardiovascular endurance without feeling like you are dripping in sweat. You build endurance, improve your circulation and can rehab injuries in the pool. If lap swimming bothers your neck for breathing, swim with a snorkel! It will keep your spine in neutral position without irritating your neck! In addition to swimming you can walk in the water or try deep water running with a flotation device. Water Strength toning can complement swimming by sculpting your muscles using the resistance of water.
The elliptical machines are a great way to mimic jogging without the added jarring stress on your joints. Using an elliptical machine is less stressful on your knees, hips and back than is running on a treadmill or outdoors. Elliptical machines come equipped with movable upper body poles allowing you to also exercise your arms. The extra rotational movement can bother people's hips who suffer from sacroiliac joint pain. If this is you, simple avoid using the arm component and keep your hands supported in the center. Most elliptical machines can be pedaled in reverse, giving you the added benefit to work opposing muscles more. If the elliptical continues to bother your knees, try to use a stationary bike which has even less stress on your joints or go for a swim!
Walking is a great, low impact exercise that is not as strenuous as other forms of physical activities. Thankfully, the only special gear needed is a good pair of shoes with a flexible sole and proper arch support. Make sure you warm up your muscles by walking in place. To make the most out of your walking sessions, pace and distance will surely give gauge your results. If you are a beginner walker, gradually increase your time and pace. The speed at which you walk should be as brisk as your condition permits. Cool down and end your walk with about five minutes of a much slower paced walk then finish with stretching.
Stairs are often overlooked as a way to work-out. Walking up stairs at a moderate intensity burns approximately 7 calories a minute for a 150-pound person. Many health clubs now offer stair stepper machines and of course, if you keep your eyes open stairs are everywhere! Make it a point to skip the elevator and find the stairs where ever you go. Stair stepping is a low-impact workout that gives maximum value in little time. Remember going up is much easier on your joints than coming down. If you have knee pain, walk up and take a ride down! If you can, jog up the stairs and walk back down.
Please talk to your doctor if you have a chronic health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease, to evaluate if your condition limits your ability to be active. Work with your doctor to develop an exercise plan that matches your abilities. Our providers at the Virginia Spine Institute are always willing to work with you. Start slowly, and keep at it. You will find significant benefits not only for your pain but also to the rest of your body.