I was recently interviewed for an article in The New York Times. The question was, “What is the one exercise you’d recommend people do to age well that many people aren’t doing or aware of?”
My initial response was that in my 18-plus years of experience in the fitness industry, I have come to the conclusion that it’s not about the “what,” it’s about the “how.”
The fitness industry convinces us that if we do enough of something (running, biking, burpees, pushups, planks) or we buy into that magical product (Shake Weight, ThighMaster, NordicTrack, Peloton), it will be the key to eternal youth and happiness. Right? Wrong!
The writer came back to me and said my response was too high level and they needed one exercise for a listicle-type article. Although boiling it down to a single exercise is tough and counterintuitive to my holistic approach, I chose spinal extensor work. At Alkalign, we affectionately call it “adult tummy time,” and the benefits are plentiful. Not only will regular spinal extensor work help you feel better, it will help you feel younger.
• Improves core strength.
• Reduces pain (particularly in the spine, hips, knees and neck).
Life without back pain? Sounds pretty good, no?
As it turns out, The New York Times wasn’t convinced the benefits were worthy of inclusion in the article, but I certainly am, and wanted to share it with you. I encourage you to try it. Here’s how:
Lie down on your abdominals and use your paraspinal muscles to lift your chest and head away from the floor. The paraspinal muscles, or erector spinae, run down your back and help your spine extend, rotate and side bend. Strong paraspinal muscles are important for back health, including mobility, stability and posture.
A deficiency in this back body strength can lead to pain, muscle spasms and difficulty moving the spine in different directions. Think of bending forward or sideways to pick something up or rotating to reach something behind you. These are pretty necessary movements, and the absence of them creates challenges in both your fitness routine and in your daily life.
Posture is also important, not just for vanity, but for back health, neck health and knee health. Moreover, good posture impacts mood and confidence. When you have both the muscular strength and mental awareness to sit and stand taller, you feel better.
Whether you call it “cobra,” “bird dog” or “superman,” there is a version of spinal extensor work practiced in yoga, Pilates, physical therapy and most
high-quality, well-rounded exercise programs. This exercise comes in many forms and is accessible by all because of all the options available. If laying on your abdominals on the ground doesn’t work, it can be done seated, on all fours or in a standing position. Thus, it’s an exercise that evolves with you as your life circumstances change.
Try it three times a week for one to two minutes per session and notice how much better you feel.
Erin Paruszewski is founder and CEO of Alkalign Studios in downtown Los Altos and the author of “It Doesn’t Have to Hurt to Work.” Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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