Says Jan Vickery, Head of Clinical Operations here at AXA PPP
A modern problem
Modern life doesn't lend itself to having a healthy back. Long hours sitting all day at a desk or on the road can take its toll. Add to this a whole host of other sedentary behaviours like TV viewing, sitting at a computer, and game console use – and it's no wonder that our bodies start feeling the strain.
With many adults in the UK spending more than 7 hours each day sitting, it's not surprising that 8 out of 10 people will suffer from back pain or some other musculoskeletal problem in their lifetime.
Keeping your posture in check
Whether it's sitting at your desk, driving in your car or watching TV at home, sitting still for too long can encourage bad posture. It can also weaken muscles that are crucial for supporting your spine.
Staying active for your whole health
But did you know that sedentary lifestyles not only affect musculoskeletal health? Research has shown that sitting still for too long – day in, day out – can also increase the risk of heart attacks and other health problems. Which is why, if your lifestyle involves a lot of sitting, it's vital you take care of yourself.
Healthcare professionals recommend breaking up long periods of sitting with short bouts of activity for just 1 to 2 minutes – as often as every 30 minutes.
Some useful tips to help you break up the amount of time you spend sitting each day include:
- standing if you take a train or bus
- taking the stairs and walking up escalators
- setting a reminder to get up every 30 minutes
- height adjustable desks that allow you to stand while you are working can also help but do avoid standing all day
- standing or walking around while you're on the phone
- taking a walk break every time you have a coffee or tea break
- walking to a co-worker's desk instead of emailing or calling them
- swapping some TV time for more active past times or hobbies.
Self-managing muscle, bone and joint problems
Here are ten lower back and core exercises that a physiotherapist might recommend to help. They can all be done in the comfort of your own home, and are especially useful if you sit for long periods – as they help to encourage good posture and strengthen key muscles.
1. Cat Stretch
This exercise helps to stretch your lower back as you move from kneeling on all fours to sitting on your heels.
Tips: The movement into sitting on your heels should be smooth and controlled.
Don't hold your breath as you perform the exercise.
2. Anterior Pelvic Tilt
This improves lower back and pelvic movement by arching your back in four-point kneeling.
Tips: The movement should be slow and controlled. Breathe normally throughout the exercise.
3. Knee to Chest
This helps to stretch your lower back muscles through active movement.
Tip: Do this lower back exercise slowly and with control.
4. Lumbar Side-Flexion
This helps to stretch your lower back by bending from side to side.
Tips: The movement should be slow and controlled, and should only be to the side.
5. Lumbar Extensions Prone
This exercise involves passive movement of the lower back as you lie on your front.
Tips: Use your arm muscles to push up as you allow your back to arch. Breathe out at the top of the movement and slowly lower yourself down.
6. Hip Rolls
This involves lifting your lower back and buttocks off the ground by pushing through your feet in a gradual motion.
Tips: Your lower back should remain in a neutral position (neither arched or rounded) throughout. Hold the lifted position as steadily as possible whilst inhaling.
7. Lumbar Rotation Crook Lying
Active movement of the lower back (rotation) by moving the knees side to side.
Tips: Roll the knees from side to side slowly and with control.
8. Bird Dog
This exercise helps you strengthen your core stability, shoulder and buttock muscles. It involves four point kneeling with lifting your opposite arm and leg.
Tips: Your lower back should remain in a neutral position (neither arched or rounded) throughout. A straight line should form from your ankle to hip and hand and shoulder. Hold this position as steady as possible while maintaining a normal breathing pattern.
9. Abdominal Engagement
By lifting your hips and knees, this exercise helps you strengthen your core stability muscles.
Tips: Activate your core stability muscles by gently drawing your lower abdomen towards your spine. Ensure your lower back remains in a neutral position (neither arched or rounded) throughout. Hold this position as steady as possible while maintaining a normal breathing pattern and keeping your knees and hips flexed to 90 degrees.
10. Dead Bug
This exercise help you to improve lower back and core control through lifting your opposite arm and knee alternately.
Tips: Activate your core stability muscles by gently drawing your lower abdomen towards your spine. Your lower back should remain in a neutral position (neither arched or rounded) throughout. Hold this position as steady as possible while maintaining a normal breathing pattern.