I’m in pretty good shape for a 62-year-old guy. But six years ago I was in a bad way.
In 2004 I had back surgery to repair a herniated disc. The operation triggered a massive flare-up of my arthritis, a condition that hadn’t really bothered me too much before then.
I don’t know if the surgery sparked a wildfire of inflammation throughout my entire body — or if the postoperative painkillers and other medications triggered it.
All I knew was that I hurt like crazy all the time, especially in my lower back and right hip. There wasn’t any position that gave me relief, except lying flat on my back to pillow under my knees.
And sitting in a chair put me in misery.
Why? Because I sit in front of a keyboard most of the day — every day.
After surgery, being in a chair made my hips and lower back hurt like the dickens.
It didn’t matter if I leaned against the backrest, or tucked a pillow in the small of my back, or sat on the edge of the seat. The compression on my lumbar vertebrae from sitting — and inevitably, sinking into a slouch — squeezed the nerves in my spine and sent pain shooting down my legs.
When I reported this to my physical therapist, she didn’t seem the least bit surprised.
“It’s because your core muscles are so weak,” she said matter-of-factly. “Instead of holding up your torso the way they should when they’re strong, you’re collapsing in on yourself. Your poor lower back is bearing all the weight. And you’re a pretty big guy.”
I raised my shirt and showed her my hard-earned six-pack abs, the result of daily sit-ups, crunches, and leg lifts. I prided myself on having the abs of a 20-year-old, even though I was now officially an AARP card-carrying “senior.”
A day never passed that I neglected my abdominal workout. I’ve been doing it since my football days, refining it over the years and experimenting with different exercises. For instance, I once had a pair of metal ankle braces that had hooks attached so I could hang upside down and work my abs against gravity, touching my forehead to my knees.
My therapist wasn’t impressed.
“Those aren’t the muscles I’m talking about,” she said. “Your core muscles are under your abs. You can’t see most of them — and they’re completely undeveloped in 99.9% of people today. That includes you.”
But not as much as what she said immediately after…
“There’s a good chance you hurt your back doing all those sit-ups. They’re terrible for people.”
|Before I could protest, she added: “But don’t worry. We’ll have your core as strong as the rest of your midsection in no time flat. And we’ll start with this…”
She wheeled over a strange-looking contraption. “From now, on I want you to sit on this when you’re working instead of a chair,” my therapist said.
It was a large ball nested in a sturdy frame on rollers. “Sit on it?” I wondered how this was going to make my back and hip stop hurting.
In the weeks that followed, I learned a lot about the body’s important “core.” These are the muscles that run through our trunks, from the top of our legs to the middle of our chests.
|They include the large muscles of the midsection such as the abs and the lower back muscles (erector spinae). But more important are the obliques and the pelvic floor muscles, including the psoas, a long, thick muscle that connects the pelvis to the spine and holds it in position. (The psoas is the muscle that allows you to perform a “pelvic thrust.”)
This group of muscles surrounds the spine and is supposed to support it, taking most of the load off the vertebrae in joints. Take them away, and our middle would be like a jellyfish.
Unless core muscles are exercised and strengthened, they go flaccid and atrophy. (“Use it or lose it” strikes again.) This puts all the weight of the upper body on the lumbar vertebrae and hip joints, forcing them to carry the entire load.
Guess what happens next? The discs between the vertebrae and cartilage in the hip joints get squeezed under all that pressure. Movement grinds away this soft tissue. Before you know it, bone is rubbing against bone, causing painful inflammation.
The result is a chronic backache and sore, stiff joints that move like rusty hinges. Good posture is destroyed. Mobility is limited. And you’re more likely to lose your balance and really hurt yourself.
It isn’t because so many more people want flat, well-toned tummies (although core-strengthening does produce this) as much as they want their good posture back — and to stop hurting (or prevent it the first place).
They’ve learned the hard way that today’s comfy, sedentary lifestyle is perfect for destroying our core muscles.
Many of us sit all day long! We hunch over desks or workstations. Slump behind the steering wheel. Slouch through our meals. Sprawl on the couch or La-Z-Boy in front of the TV at night.
And we aren’t sitting up very straight, either — so our core muscles don’t receive very much stimulation.
After decades of drooping in a chair while tapping on a keyboard, my core muscles were almost as underdeveloped as a baby’s. No wonder my lower back always hurt so much.
And I realized why the disc between L-4 and L-5 had squeezed out like icing between the layers of a cake.
“No more chairs for you,” my physical therapist declared as she introduced me to the odd-looking ball-on-wheels called The Evolution Chair. “Climb aboard!”
I teetered on top of the ball, having to make slight adjustments in my posture to keep my balance.
“You’re getting the hang of it,” she encouraged me.
The first thing I realized was how very straight I was sitting. I had to because there was nothing to lean against.
Then I noticed that my core muscles were making subtle movements to stabilize me. This is called proprioception — a fascinating give-and-take action between the muscles and the nervous system to establish equilibrium.
You see, a muscle is only able to contract or relax. Therefore, two muscles must be involved to create a simple movement, such as extending your arm: Your biceps relaxes while your triceps contracts. To pull an object to you, it’s the reverse: Your triceps relaxes as your biceps contracts.
Balance is achieved in the same way, but by a much more complex series of simultaneous contraction/relaxation actions occurring in multiple muscles, all coordinated by tiny proprioceptor nerve signals connected to the cerebellum area of the brain.
My core muscles were getting a workout while I did nothing more than sit!
And my core-strengthening was enhanced every time I leaned, swayed, tilted, gently bounced or turned my body. Every movement made me stronger.
It wasn’t my imagination, either. I later learned that this amazing action is backed by research conducted by NASA Engineer David Marcarian.
He studies show that sitting like this nearly doubles core muscle activity … reduces undesirable “head forward” posture … and brings abdominal and lumbar activity into a better balance.
Marcarian’s findings also confirm that ball-sitting reduces lower back pain by absorbing the compression that is normally transmitted to the spine while seated.
After my back surgery and my battle with arthritis, I made the decision to dedicate my life to all things healthful — and to helping as many people as I could. (That’s when I began writing as “Jim Healthy.”)
Everything that diminished my health went out the window. And my office chair was one of the first things I let fly.
That was six years ago. I’m still sitting for 6-7 hours per day, but now I do it on an Evolution Chair.
Of course, I still use conventional chairs for meetings and meals. But when it comes to long stretches, you can bet I’m always “on the ball.”
Every second that I’m sitting down, I’m working my core muscles. And it’s effortless.
|These days, after hours at the computer, I’m not cramped and tense. Slouching now feels completely unnatural; perfect posture feels absolutely normal. Best of all, my lower back pain and hip ache have vanished.
And if something gets me a little uptight during the day, I simply have a little bounce on my chair-ball, which settles me right down. (Reason: Engaging your core muscles kicks in the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms anxiety.) But you might want to save the bouncing for when your co-workers aren’t around. It looks like you’re having too much fun!
The Evolution Chair was initially created for dentists, but anyone can reap the benefits of great posture and a stronger core. Air traffic controllers, administrative personnel, students, teachers, lawyers, and doctors are using it too. I’m seeing them everywhere!
One of the things I love about my role here at MyHealingKitchen.com is that I get to investigate and test all the new health products I hear about — and to tell our more than 30,000 members about the good ones.
Take it from me: The Evolution Chair is one of the good ones.
And its name is really appropriate because it truly represents the “evolution” of sitting.
Its manufacturer, Body Intelligence, is making The Evolution Chair available to all MyHealingKitchen members with this exclusive offer.
Try it for 30 days and see for yourself the difference it makes. If you’re not thoroughly impressed by the relief in your lower back and the new comfort in your hips (as well as a noticeable tightening of your tummy muscles), simply return it for a full refund.
I’ll personally see that you get all your money back promptly. Click here to give it a try…
P.S. Some of you may be wondering if you’d get the same benefits from sitting on one of those big rubber exercise balls you see at the gym and on TV.
I wondered too — so I tried one. (A couple, actually.)
Problem #1: I couldn’t find a ball big enough that put me at the right height. I was always reaching up to my desk, instead of looking down on it the way I do on The Evolution Chair. Since it can be adjusted (unlike an ordinary ball), people of different heights and weights can experience proper ergonomic seated posture.
Problem #2: Scooting around on a regular ball is awkward and difficult. But because The Evolution Chair is mounted on vinyl wheels, I can roll closer to my desk or turn my chair without slumping or twisting into unnatural positions.
Besides, The Evolution Chair looks more like you’re sitting on a piece of furniture — so people won’t think you’re “weird.”
Give it a try. You’ll see why I like it so much.