If you’re like most people, it’s safe to assume you want to enjoy the many benefits associated with having a healthy spine that’s able to handle your daily movements with little or no significant discomfort. To achieve this goal, it helps to have an idea of what habits are good for your spine and which ones aren’t so healthy for your backbone, its 33 vertebrae, 23 discs, and other supporting parts. Take a moment to consider some of the healthiest and unhealthiest habits for your spine so you can make better-informed choices specific to your lifestyle.
Let’s start by looking at some of the habits to avoid if you prefer to increase your odds of enjoying optimal spine health. Some of these not-so-good habits can also impact other aspects of your health, so you’ll also be boosting your overall wellbeing by staying away from the following unhealthy spine-related habits.
Nicotine and the other thousands of chemicals in cigarettes are associated with many well-documented health hazards. Smoking is also bad for the spine because it slows down blood flow, which can affect the healing process and the way nutrients are delivered to the spine’s various tissues. There’s also research suggesting smoking accelerates disc degeneration (wear). If not prevented or detected early enough, disc degeneration could be so severe it results in the need for total disc replacement. Beverly Hills smokers should add spine health to the long list of reasons to quit.
While not technically a “habit” per se, excess body weight can certainly place added pressure on various parts of the spine. Over time, this extra weight can accelerate wear on spinal joints and discs. Even losing a small amount of weight can make a big difference. Unhealthy habits that may contribute to weight gain include:
• Eating sugary, processed, and starchy foods on a regular basis
• Having a generally sedentary (inactive) lifestyle
• Not getting enough exercise to sufficiently burn off excess calories
While it may be convenient to be able to text or use a table whenever the mood strikes, doing so sometimes leads to unhealthy habits, particularly ones associated with poor posture. Leaning forward to text, play handheld games, or browse the Web on a tablet can result in excessive neck craning, which places too much stress on the cervical spine (neck) and parts of the upper and middle back.
There’s nothing wrong with hard work. However, a physically demanding job that involves heavy lifting, repetitive movements, or excessive bending, reaching, or twisting can increase the risk of developing back problems such as disc herniation and damage to spine-related muscles.
Now let’s focus on the habits you’ll want to make permanent to boost your odds of having fewer spine-related issues. As is the case with unhealthy habits, healthy habits, such as the ones mentioned below, can influence other aspects of your health—but in a good way.
What’s great about walking is that it can be done on both indoor and outdoor surfaces and at a pace that’s right for you. Research shows that walking can benefit the spine by:
• Increasing circulation
• Minimizing inflammation
• Strengthening spine-supporting muscle groups
• Increasing flexibility and mobility
From water aerobics to certain forms of yoga, many low-impact activities are good for the spine. Cycling is a good choice because it can reduce lumbar (lower back) spine pain. It’s also an activity you can easily do after work, on weekends, or a few times a week. Just be aware of your posture and watch your pedal adjustments and handlebar height.
You don’t have to limit your diet to only fruits and veggies just to keep your spine healthy. However, you can make an effort to stay away from inflammation-causing foods such as processed meats, refined carbs, and sugary snacks. It’s surprisingly easy to enjoy a balanced diet if you incorporate the following foods into your regular meals:
• Skinless chicken and turkey and other lean meats
• Low-fat dairy products
• Beans, soy products, and other high-protein foods
• Seafood that includes nutrient-rich fish like salmon and tuna
• Green leafy veggies and bright-colored citrus fruits
Your level of activity will also determine how you should care for your spine. For instance, if you’re athletic, it can be helpful to stretch before you train, play a game, or go for a run or jog. And if you spend most of your day at a desk, you may want to explore your options with sit-to-stand workstations, make an effort to switch positions, and take periodic breaks to get up and walk around. For tips more specific to your daily habits and preferred activities, talk to your doctor or a spine specialist.
Taking good care of your spine is one of the greatest gifts you can offer yourself, and establishing spine-healthy habits can be simple and even fun. Following the advice above can be a fantastic way to keep your spine healthy for years to come. If you have lingering or severe back pain even though you practice spine-healthy habits, you may need to consult a Beverly Hills spine surgeon. Call The Spine Institute today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced spine specialists.