Smutty Fitness: Skeleton and Spine 

Hayley Posted by Hayley at January 17, 2019 21:33:23 January 17, 2019 21:33:23

Hi Hayley, 

I'll get straight to the point, after putting up with lower back pain I've just gotten a diagnosis from my physio of Severe Degenerative Disc Disease (L5-S1). Thankfully I have a physio that's caring and understanding, and really the first one who's taken the pain seriously (he's the one who finally ordered the x-ray to confirm). We've just only started treatment and he's nixed out a few of my favourite parts of my training workout (I have a PT) - the big one being deadlifts. I don't have a physical job (I literally sit at a computer all day), I don't engage in any high-intensity activities outside supervised lifting at the gym (I'd rather walk 15km than jog even 3km). Why is this happening to someone who is in their 30’s?  Although I should mention that I am considered obese by my BMI. I have started tracking my food on Lose It but what else can I do?

The physio also cautioned against yoga (for now), the bending is just not something he wants me to attempt until we have some of my muscle tension worked out. He did say that I need to work on my core strength to help support my spine. What he did recommend is that Pilates might be something I should look into. Is there one form that's better than another? Also is there anything I should be asking from my trainer, or even red flags to watch out for? 

Let’s take a second to talk about our skeleton and our spine. Our spine is composed of 2 parts: our Axial Skeleton which is our comprised of skull, our spine, ribs and sternum and and our Appendicular Skeleton which is our legs, arms, hands, feet and our hip and shoulder girdles.  Without our skeleton we would be mush, as nothing would be supporting our muscles, our organs or allow for movement. The main purpose of our spine is to protect our spinal cord, give us mobility, provide structure to our body and absorb shock, with help of our discs. Because most of our body connects to our axial skeleton the heavier we are the more shock it has to absorb. Our BMI (body mass index) is so important to keep all of our joints healthy.

So why this little anatomy lesson? Because being healthy isn’t just about being skinny and maintaining a healthy weight is not just important for our heart. Our bones take on a lot of stress every single day, even if we are sitting in complete stillness. So, in those terms, yes, weight management is important. 

There are many factors that contribute to weight gain over our lifetime and it just doesn’t happen overnight. That said, we can always start making changes now and being healthy does not have to be hard. It doesn’t mean there can’t be joy. It doesn’t mean you are on a diet and you have to weigh all of your food. It doesn’t mean you can never have sugar again or you will be on the treadmill every day for an hour. Of course, the more sacrifices you make the faster you will see the change, but I’m a fan of taking things slow. So it’s not that living healthy is hard, it’s the switch to that way of living that is the challenge. You are already making changes by following your food tracking apps so stick with that, but keep your parameters achievable, meaning don’t starve yourself. Use the app to give you a sense of what you are putting into your body as well as what your body needs and then find a way to step away from tracking your food and simply learning to make the right choices. We all know the right choices. Make the right choices much more often than the wrong choices. Speaking with a naturopath (or your doctor) is also helpful because they can take a deeper look into the health of your gut, which can be an important partner in weight loss.

In regard to your exercise, forget the deadlifts. They don’t matter. In fact, most people do them wrong anyway, so you are better off without them. Listen to your physio and stay away from yoga (for now) unless you are at a restorative class which will be a great to battle any depression or anxiety you may be feeling. Definitely get into a Pilates workout once or twice a week to help keep your core strong and to strengthen your body with as little strain on your skeleton as possible.  Water aerobics and water running is also a good idea because you can do cardio as well as strength exercises with zero gravity. Other options are riding a recumbent or stationary bike or using an elliptical. Your trainer should just make sure anything they prescribe do you does not load the spine. No pushing anything with your legs, or step-ups. Body weight squats are a good place to start, focusing on core control and back bridge work. Nothing overhead either.

Right now your workouts are going to focus on non-impact strength training and improving your mental health. You are going to use your workouts to give back to yourself, stay positive, and to create the habit of moving. I want your workouts to be something you look forward to. 
Where you need to put your focus is into your nutrition. Wake up and pack yourself the healthiest of lunches to take to work. Try to start identifying the bad habits in your lifestyle and saying no to them. Change is not easy, and it takes work. Every day is a new day and requires your recommitment to your goal.

Once you have lost half of the weight you are trying to lose then your workouts can pick up in intensity and you can start to be a tad more lenient in your food choices but write me again when you get there. For now, it is a focus on making healthy choices and exercising for your mental health.


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