Is a bad back keeping you from getting the aerobic exercise you need to stay in good shape? All too often, back issues — particular in the lumbar, or lower, spine — have a way of sidelining many determined athletes from getting moderate or higher-intensity aerobic exercise.
It's not hard to understand why. Most first-choice aerobic activities, such as running, jogging or even many aerobic dance classes cause the spine to absorb a fair amount of shock.
However, avoiding cardio because of your back is likely to just make things worse. Cardio increases blood flow, reduces stiffness and boosts your endorphins — all key to recovering from a bout of back pain. Low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming and cross-country skiing provide cardio while actually improving your back situation.
Aerobic exercises make repetitive use of the bigger muscle groups for extended periods of time. Ideally, perform this type of exercise for 30 minutes to an hour, three to five days a week, to boost your health recommends the Cleveland Clinic. And you should also choose an exercise you enjoy and can persist with for extended periods.
Walking is the perfect exercise for people who've been sedentary for an extended period of time. You can do it any time, anywhere and the intensity is completely up to you. Walking limbers up the back in a number of ways, perhaps most importantly by activating the inner and outer hip muscles that can pull the back out of alignment when they're too tight. Walking is help for weight loss, too; an hour of walking burns approximately 100 calories, according to the American Council on Exercise.
Cycling, whether on a bicycle or stationary bike, activates the upper leg muscles and tunes up your sense of balance. Because the pedaling motion is smooth and circular, the only jolts you're going to feel are bumps in the road. That's a relief for your back, which is likely to benefit from cycling, according to a 2014 review of 29 studies published in Spine .
On stationary bikes, set the tension to 60 rotations per minute and slide up to 90 as you progress. Recumbent bicycles may be most supportive to your back, too.
3. Swimming/Water Exercise
The proverbial "runner's high" is no joke. Devoted runners — even those who keep it to a short and sweet 2 miles or so — can go into serious withdrawal when an injury keeps them from getting their endorphin infusion. Seek out that same high in the pool.
Swimming and other aquatic exercises can protect your back from pain-inflicting shock waves. A 2009 Clinical Rehabilitation review of studies that examined the effect of water sports on lower back pain found that liquid workouts reduced back discomfort.
4. Cross-country Skiing
Cross-country skiing makes great demands on your upper body and legs, causing your body to consume oxygen like an oil fire. The machines you find in the gym do a good job of simulating the real thing, without exposing you to a tumble that could be a set-back to your lumbar recovery.
The motions can be a little tricky to master and the motions a bit tuggy on the hips, but cross-country skiing will give you a cardio blast like few other activities.
With all of the above exercises — especially cross-country skiing because it can involve some spinal twisting — it's important to warm up your back muscles before exercising.