A couple of months ago I was advising a friend on coping with lower back pain -- something I'm all too familiar with, starting with an injury to my lower back (probably related to the strain of childbirth) just a few days after my first child was born and then, especially, the ongoing issues I've had since I fell down the stairs right after we moved to this house. It occurred to me, as I was lecturing, that a whole lot of the advice I was giving was advice I should be taking.
As a result of my own lectures, I committed to 15 minutes per day of focusing on core strength and flexibility. I really believe lack of strength in the abs and lower back especially, is the primary reason we have back pain (or maybe any pain). I figure if I can't spent 15 minutes a day, I deserve to hurt. I made a list of 15 different routines of sorts -- mostly involving yoga, some basic ballet exercises, and some good old-fashioned crunches and hand weights. I figure the variety is important, not only for bodily balance, but to keep me motivated.
I don't like committing to an exercise plan when it comes to cardio work. I've had much better luck staying active just by focusing on having fun and doing things that I enjoy without measuring and tracking exercise and time, but I find I don't do these core strength exercises without some sort of commitment and plan.
I've done well. There have been a few days when I've managed to skip the 15 minutes, but for the most part I've been making it happen first thing in the morning. The biggest bonus -- a surprise even to me -- is how quickly my aches and pains have subsided.
It's been weeks since I've had any lower back tension and sciatica pain. This was commonly an issue as I crawled into bed each night. I'd have such pain shooting down my legs, or just a tingly numb sensation all the way to my big toes, that I would have trouble falling asleep.
The numbness and problems in my arms and shoulders has also gone away. I knew this was nerve related, and visits to the chiropractor have always provided some relief. I also know that my work at the computer adds to this problem, but this core strength and flexibility focus seems to have almost entirely eliminated these issues, as well.
I am finding I have less trouble sitting, as well. Seems like an odd thing to feel better about, but sitting still -- especially on hard surfaces (like a chair) has been incredibly difficult for me for a couple of years now. I've found it so much so that at times I have looked... perhaps less forward to things like outings with my friends where I knew we might be just sitting, drinking coffee, visiting... than I should. I found myself weighing the fun visit against the pain I knew would inevitably follow.
Most of all -- I'm finding those "fun" cardio activities are getting easier and... well, more fun. I'm looking forward to the results as this core strength approach pays off even more as I feel inclined to bike more, walk more, play at the park more.
My friend Nat (who has taught me so much about how to care for and listen to my body in the last 15 years) has always promoted a move it or lose it philosophy. I believed her when I was entering my 30s, and I'm even more convinced a decade later. I've had some first hand experience at what it feels like to lose it, and I don't want to be left in a place where I'm always wishing I had it back.
It's a small thing -- 15 minutes a day. And it's so worth it. I guess I write it here as a reminder to myself as much as anything. Like all things that are good for you, it's easy to forget.