I was slightly shocked listening to a show on PBS this weekend discussing all forms of exercises to help with aging. On the the show they were discussing a wide variety of exercising from a large panel and the topics of discussions were yoga, pilates, stretching routines, swimming, cycling, running and many other forms. A statement was made on the show however that “Walking is not a very good back exercise” and I almost dropped my pain brush in the garage, loaded with white paint!
Hold on and prepare yourself on why this is a poor attitude to have towards “talking a walk”. While I feel the person making this statement was comparing walking against pilates or aerobics and basing their statement on muscle activation and stretching, walking is actually a good exercise for the back. When you look at walking from a stance of worrying about the deepest areas of the spine, and not just your “back muscles”, then you realize quickly that walking is very essential to spinal health and is actually a good exercise for the back.
Spinal mobility is intimately related to the health of the spinal discs. If you take the flexibility out of the disc itself, spinal mobility and flexibility will be decreased greatly. This means, the discs help to provide a great deal of rotating levels and bendable materials so that we can move. If the discs in our spines were not flexible, we would feel like we had a stiff board for a back and not a system of joints that permits movement. Disc hydration is what allows the discs to remain mobile. Around ages 18 – 22, the spinal discs ability to self hydrate starts to steadily reduce. This means that about the time you truly become a skeletal mature adult, lets say by age 25, the only way that the core of your discs can be lubricated, watered, and fed with nutrients is through a process known as imbibition.
Bare with me on this in relation to the original point that “Walking is not a very good back exercise”. The opening and closing action of intradiscal spaces (space the disc resides in between two bones known as vertebral bodies), applies and then releases pressure on the disc causing a pumping process with feed and nourishes the disc with water and nutrients. This pumping motion sucks fresh spinal fluid in and compress old spinal fluid out. This process is very critical to the health of the discs, keeping them soft, compressible and flexible. To take this point even further, when a person sits still, the process of imbibition is stopped completely. So yes, sitting in an office chair for long periods of time does negatively impact your spine in most cases when looking at the spinal discs.
So my response to the idea that “Walking is not a very good back exercise” is that the statement is completely false and while walking does not strengthen your back musculature, it is imperative to discal health deep inside the spine. Furthermore, when compared to a daily activity of sitting in a desk chair for long periods of time, walking for a sore back can be just what the doctor ordered.
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