Let's face it—between how we sit at work, the time we spend watching television, and our poor dietary choices, most of us are not kind to our lower backs. Walking can't undo all the negative effects of this kind of lifestyle, but here are two reasons why walking is good for your lower back:
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1. Walking helps you stay functional
One of the most frustrating aspects of chronic lower back pain is how it impacts your day-to-day life. Tasks that used to be simple, like bending over to tie your shoes or reaching for something you dropped, can sometimes seem insurmountable. And let's not even discuss how difficult driving can be.
One of the most-overlooked benefits of a regular program of exercise walking (30 to 40 minutes and 3 to 7 days a week) is that it can help you maintain your day-to-day functional capabilities. Put another way, people with chronic lower back pain who do not regularly engage in aerobic exercise are more likely to be limited in their functionality.
Of course, this simple fact has enormous potential implications for your life. For example, a simple daily walk may allow you to continue to participate in your favorite activities, keep you out of a wheelchair, and even help you remain with your current employer.
2. Walking increases endorphin production
Endorphins are your body's pain-inhibiting hormones, and exercise walking can spur their release. This means that walking not only helps you maintain your functional capabilities, but it can also reduce your experience of chronic lower back pain.
Endorphins inhibit your pain by binding to the opioid receptors in your brain, and they work similar to opioid pain medications like oxycodone or morphine. If you commit to a regular program of walking, you may be able to reduce your dependence on pain medications.
As an added bonus, endorphins can also help improve your overall mood.
What if my back hurts too much to walk?
If you have severe lower back pain, you may not be able to walk for 30 to 40 minutes. One option is to start with a 5 minute walk and slowly work you way up. Additionally, you can also try walking in a shallow pool. The buoyancy of the water may provide enough relief to allow you to complete your work-out.
You may also find that an alternative low-impact aerobic exercise, like biking or using an elliptical machine, is easier on your lower back.
The key to any walking program is to start right away. So once you are cleared by a doctor, don't delay—your future back will thank you.