Quick tips to a healthier back

If you've been sedentary for some time, here is something to think about before you dive back into your standard fitness routine.

Remember: following any period of prolonged inactivity, begin a program of regular low-impact exercises. Speed walking, swimming, or stationary bike riding 30 minutes a day can increase muscle strength and flexibility. Yoga can also help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve posture. Also, you may want to ask your physician or orthopedist for a list of low-impact exercises appropriate for your age and designed to strengthen lower back and abdominal muscles.

However you choose t make your comeback, remember to start slowly and to follow these recommendations to protect your back:

• Always stretch before exercise or other strenuous physical activity.

• Don't slouch when standing or sitting. When standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet. Your back supports weight most easily when curvature is reduced.

• At home or work, make sure your work surface is at a comfortable height for you.

• Sit in a chair with good lumbar support and proper position and height for the task. Keep your shoulders back. Switch sitting positions often and periodically walk around the office or gently stretch muscles to relieve tension. A pillow or rolled-up towel placed behind the small of your back can provide some lumbar support. If you must sit for a long period of time, rest your feet on a low stool or a stack of books.

• Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.

• Sleep on your side to reduce any curve in your spine. Always sleep on a firm surface.

• Ask for help when transferring an ill or injured family member from a reclining to sitting position or when moving the patient from a chair to a bed.

• Don't try to lift objects too heavy for you. Lift with your knees, pull in your stomach muscles, and keep your head down and in line with your straight back. Keep the object close to your body. Do not twist when lifting.

• Maintain proper nutrition and diet to reduce and prevent excessive weight, especially weight around the waistline that taxes lower back muscles. A diet with sufficient daily intake vitamin D helps to promote new bone growth.

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