As a new Pilates teacher I read the writings of Joseph Pilates (Return to Life and Your Health),and I still refer back to them to this day, 27 years later. One of his primary teachings is that the health of our spine is crucial to the rest of our health. We are as old as our spines.
You may be thinking, “Lynda, obviously I am as old as my spine, since it’s been a part of me since birth. Why is this so important?”
Your Spine is the Center of Your Nervous System
While our brains direct what goes on in our bodies, the spine and the nerves running along and through it are what puts the brain directives into motion. Any injury to the spine and nerves affects our ability to function in the world.
Lumbar spine (lower back) injuries can lead to pain, numbness in the legs and feet, and in extreme cases the inability to control bladder and bowel function.
Cervical spine (neck) injuries can lead to headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, and in extreme cases the inability to move your neck or use your arms and hands.
Thoracic spine (ribcage area) injuries can lead to pain, humpback, and nerve dysfunction.
Your Spine Needs To Move
Our spines are meant to be both mobile and stable. They are meant to move in all directions (forward/backward, side to side, and rotation). And there are a lot of muscles that help it to move and to stabilize, from the deepest, smallest multifidus and rotatores, to the large erector and latissimus muscles). Our spines even move when we breath (ribs are attached to the thoracic spine).
A healthy moving spine allows for flow of blood, lymph, and meningeal fluid, keeping us mobile and pain free with healthy discs and vertebrae.
We Tend To Not Move
Joseph Pilates saw how much the conveniences of modern urban life stops us from moving. We sit much of the day, no matter how active we think we are. And then we exercise in seated positions.
Think about this we wake up and sit to eat breakfast. Then we get into a car or some form of transportation that we sit in until we get to work, where we sit most of the day at our desks.
Maybe we go out to lunch, but often we order in or bring lunch. When work ends, we sit again on the way home, where we sit and read the paper, sit down to dinner, and then sit to watch some TV or read before bed. Then for exercise we often choose exercise that also keep us sitting and our spines compressed spinning, for example.
Osteoporosis and the Spine
Osteoporosis is the loss of bone density that can happen as we age, mostly through lack of bone building minerals from a poor diet and lack of proper weight bearing into our bones. Sitting is a primary factor in lower bone density.
Once osteoporosis starts, spine movement must be monitored as too much forward movement can cause vertebrae to fracture.
Back Pain Ages Us
Back pain and back injury can be a life changing event. Suddenly we have to always think about how and when we move, since moving hurts.
A Healthy Spine Keeps Us Young
If your spine is healthy and mobile, you will feel and act younger.
For example, I am 48 years old and I try to move as much as possible. I walk and take stairs whenever I can, and I make sure to do some Pilates every day to keep things moving. I make sure to move my spine in a supported way in all directions, especially if I have been writing a lot.
I also make sure to stay stable when necessary, such as sitting and standing, and picking up heavy objects.
Even if I gain weight, my body still feels good and moves well, because of this focus. I don’t wake up in pain, and if I do I know that I have been slacking on my spine health movements.
People tell me that I look and act much younger than my 48 years. I am as old as my spine!