Feb 10, 2015

It’s generally well understood that maintaining good overall health can help patients minimize disease and maximize activity while protecting against injury. Good physical health can help prevent spine problems, such as chronic back and neck pain. A regular aerobic and core-strengthening program can help prevent back and neck injuries. However, patients tell me all the time that they don’t understand why they have spine problems since they exercise regularly.

But physical health is only part of the story. We know that patients who are overweight (those with a high Body Mass Index or BMI) are likely to have chronic neck and back pain, have more complications, and less optimal results from surgery. So, it’s just as important to take a careful look at one’s nutrition, specifically quality, type and caloric intake, hormone balance, and vitamin deficiencies. High-risk lifestyle choices including smoking, alcohol consumption, and recreational drug use, will also impact long-term health.

Regarding total caloric intake, it’s important to know what your basal metabolic rate is (your idle speed) in calories. This indicates how many total calories you can consume on a daily basis without gaining weight. Patients who don’t know their basal metabolic rate often complain that they keep gaining weight even when eating less.

Most nutrition specialists or integrative medicine physicians recommend diets with high nutrient quality and density, focused on vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Foods high in anti-oxidants, and natural sugars to keep insulin levels low and steady are also essential. It’s important to measure your Vitamin D, and B12, levels. Approximately 40-60% of the adult population is vitamin deficient. Supplementing with Omega-3, anti-oxidants, and minerals may be needed. Interestingly, with consumption of high quality and nutrient dense foods, you will never feel hungry.

Hormonal balance requires looking at your thyroid levels, including TSH, T3, T4 blood levels to start, testosterone and estradiol levels. Remember, what is normal for most people may not be normal or optimal for you.

Newer concepts regarding exercise suggest that shorter, high-intensity workout regimens are sufficient.

In summary, when looking at ways to maintain overall general health as well as spine health, one should consider factors beyond exercise, including optimal weight, hormonal balance, and nutritional balance.