Part 1: Is Gravity Getting You Down?
The literal, and figurative, answer is yes! And two minutes a day can change that.
When we’re young and flexible a well meaning parent, typically a mother, lectures us about our slouch posture. Girls are often told that if they want to be a model when they grow up they should straighten up, as if I they have a string attached to the top of their head pulling them straight up to the sky. This pearl of wisdom is helpful even as an adult. The importance of that string, and the ‘gravity’ of gravity, becomes more important as we age.
There are two types of gravity. ’Einstein's' gravity is the bending of the space-time continuum and depends on the size of the heavenly body. The bigger the cosmic object, the bigger the space-time bend, which increases weak gravitational attraction between objects. Down here on earth we experience a more boring ‘Newtonian’ gravity. No space-time denting down here. Just a constant pulling of our body down to the ground with intervening structures like chairs and beds. We don’t seem to think about gravity, except to not drop things. Well, until we ourselves have problems.
We start off life as quadrupeds. Crawling on all fours helps develop our three primary spinal curves. Lifting our head to look ahead helps develop the curves of our spine into a spring-like structure which works better against gravity when we learn to walk upright (bipedalism). Each of the spinal curves has a specific area that takes most of the strain (loads) against Newtonian gravity. As such, they are known as ‘gravitational loading bearing’ (GLB). More importantly, these 3 GLB areas are where our spines stiffen, become sore and painful and develop more disc degeneration, the lower neck, mid-back and lower back.
Degeneration didn’t matter too much back in the early 1900’s when the average lifespan was 48 years. (1) But nowadays, we need to minimize degenerative changes. After all, we’re now living an average of 82 years, long enough to develop significant degeneration if want to. To prevent symptoms and wear requires keeping your spine flexible with flexibility exercises, and manual medicine (seek a good chiro or physio) when the stiffness or wear is progressed beyond self-help. Allowing yourself to become a living fossil is an option. However, practicing flexibility exercises can reduce degeneration by 20% to 30%. (2) Imagine yourself at age 80 but doing the fun things you liked when you were only 60.
But we also need core strength and the best strengthener is simple. Take multiple moments throughout your day to forcibly straighten up as hard and tall as you can for 5 to 60 seconds. Try for at least 2 minutes in total in your day. You will feel your entire core toning up including your abdominal muscles. Those specific core stability exercises for your lower back, it turns out, are no more effective than general exercise. (3,4) Aim to tone your core throughout your day whether you walk, sit or stand.
Remember, with respect to that space-time continuum, you’re literally sticking straight out of a round ball, earth, which is spinning about 1200 miles an hour while orbiting the sun at 30 kilometres per second. In turn, (no pun intended) our sun and solar system orbits the Milky Way galaxy at 640 kilometres per second, completing it every 220 millions years. (5) So imagine a string from the top of your head pulling you skyward. And as you maintain spine flexibility and slow degeneration down, maybe you are actually bending Einstein’s space-time continuum and slowing time down!
2. Jeng C, Cheng T, Kung C, Hsu H. Yoga and disc degenerative disease in cervical and lumbar spine: an MR imaging-based case control study. Eur Spine J (2011); 20:408–413.
3. Stilwell P, Harman K. Contemporary biopsychosocial exercise prescription for chronic low back pain: questioning core stability programs and considering context. J Can Chirop Assoc (2017); 61:6-17.
4. Saner J, Kool J, Sieben JM, Luomajoki H, Bastiaenen CH, de Bie RA. A tailored exercise program versus general exercise for a subgroup of patients with low back pain and movement control impairment: A randomized controlled trial with one-year follow-up. Man Ther 2015; 20:672-9.
5. Milky Way Galaxy photo: www.quora.com