Don’t wait for pain to strike. Here’s how to protect your back, 24/7.
At the office
You’ve probably heard that sitting is the new smoking, and it doesn’t do your back any favors, either. The position puts stress on the lower back, but you can mitigate the damage by getting up every 20 to 45 minutes, and changing positions, says Jeffrey Goldstein, chief of spine surgery education at NYU Langone.
If you’re a desk jockey, nab an ergonomic chair, which optimizes your posture and provides lumbar support for lower back aches. Set the height so that the keyboard is below your elbow-height, meaning your arm bend is greater than 90 degrees. Position the monitor just below eye level and use a phone headset instead of cradling the receiver against your ear.
At the gym
Inadequate strength and flexibility in your core and back is the number one reason for back pain, Marcus says. Healthy muscle isn’t just strong; it’s also relaxed. “Focusing on strength without respecting flexibility is a big mistake,” he says. It goes without saying that aiming for weightlifting PRs to the detriment of technique is an express track to injury.
And employ smart back practices during cardio, too. When you’re on a machine, especially an elliptical or stair climber, resist the urge to lean over the front handlebar. You’re robbing yourself of full cardio potential and putting unnecessary stress on your spine. Instead, stay tall, with shoulders back and arms at your sides, which works your core, too.
Start your day with some exercise—a serious workout, shooting hoops, a 15-minute walk—to wake up your joints, says Rami Said, D.P.T., of the Columbia University Department of Neurological Surgery. Then stretch if it feels good. And when you get home from work, it’s OK to flop on the couch and rewatch a few episodes of Stranger Things, so long as you get up and move about every 20 minutes.
Just as your back needs to stay active during the day, it also needs to move during the night, Marcus says. That’s where your mattress comes in. If it’s too soft, you sink in and usually stay in one position. Opt for one that’s slightly firm, which encourages your body to adjust positions during the night.
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