Think about it – your spine is the center of your body. Its physical placement is right there in your middle, connecting you from your head all the way down to your bottom. From your first breath to your final, your spine is an integral part of you and one that is a key to maintaining good health in every stage of life.
Sensing the centrality of your spine
Take a moment to feel your spine right now, to sense how it is a part of you.
Wiggle your fingers – you can sense that connection as the signal to create motion comes from your brain and cascades down your spine, through your shoulders and all the way down the length of your arm to the tips of your fingers. Now do the same with your toes and you’ll get that same sense of the way that those signals travel from your brain, down your spine, past your hips, running all the way down your leg and through your feet until reaching your toes and wiggling them.
Roll your head around, then shift your ribcage back and forth, and finally shake your hips a bit (right there wherever you’re reading this – don’t be shy!) All of that movement comes from your spine–not just in the sense that the signals are traveling down your spine from your brain to spark the movement, but also in a more concrete sense, as you are articulating your spine intentionally and that movement sends out other movement in your body.
The spine’s role in overall health
Though the spine is a key player in the health of the body in terms of movement and sensation, its importance doesn’t stop there. That centrality in the body means that the spine is connected to every vital function. The integrity of your spine is very closely tied to the overall integrity of your health. The more effectively your spine functions, the more effectively the rest of your body will function as well.
Your spine was designed to protect and house your spinal cord, which is the partner to your brain in your central nervous system. These two work in tandem to make it all happen. All other nerves and sensations make up the peripheral nervous system, which sends and receives signals from the brain and spine. To put it simply: Without your spine, all your other nerves and muscle movement would suffer greatly – so you want to keep it healthy and flexible!
This is way more important than just comfort and ease of movement: The spine sends and receives signals from your vital organs as well. Without your spine, your stomach can’t digest your food, your lungs can’t contract and expand, your heart can’t beat. Those nerves maintain your body temperature and your blood pressure, control your sexual function, tell you when to feel hungry or tired, allow you to feel the cool breeze on your cheek and the warm sand between your toes. Nerves from your spine innervate all of you, making your body function. Everything about the way that your body functions and interacts with the world around you is controlled right there in your spine.
Keeping those bones in line
Your spine is composed of 33 bones called vertebrae, small bones that are stacked on top of each other and house the bundle of central nerves that make up the spinal cord. Those nerves from the spinal cord reach out through the spaces in the vertebrae on the way to their destinations through small holes called foramen. When the bones in your spinal column are pinched, tight, or out of alignment, then those nerves can become compromised, and it’s something that’s all too common, especially as we age.
The bones of the spine are supported and controlled by ligaments, muscles and other tissue that surround them. When we talk about strengthening your spine, we’re not talking about actually doing anything to the bones themselves – those are what they are and can’t be modified without surgery, which of course we want to avoid. Rather, when we talk about “strengthening the spine” or “aligning the spine,” what we’re really talking about is strengthening those muscles and the surrounding tissue in such a way as to pull those bones into alignment and to relieve any pressure that might be on those nerves that are reaching out of the vertebrae.
Maintaining the integrity of your spine through the right kind of fitness is an important part of keeping your body healthy. Using an exercise system like Pilates that focuses on working with the spine to keep it properly aligned and easily mobile is a key to maintaining overall health, both for you in terms of your ability to move with ease and in terms of your body’s ability to function at its best.
Spine health and aging
We hear about back pain so often that it is practically an expectation that we will have it in some form as we age, but this is by no means a discomfort that we should simply live with. There are ways to prevent and reduce back pain as we age.
Many of those common aches and pains come from a spine that’s compressing nerves because it’s not properly supported with strong core muscles. The good news is that there is something you can do about it–whether you’ve never experienced those aches and pains or whether they’re old familiar friends. Improving posture and core strength through exercise is a proven way to take the pain out of the spine and thereby to improve overall health.
As the years pass it’s easy for the stresses of life, both physical and mental, to take a toll on the spine and cause us to feel older than we are. Exercise that focuses on improving the functionality of the spine isn’t just about getting your body to move with ease in the sense of making you more limber and agile – it’s about taking the pressure off of those so important nerves and allowing them to do their job of supporting your vital bodily functions.
The good news is, you can start today! For the next 100 days, I challenge you to strengthen your spine and your core through our quick, simple daily challenges. Just download the app!
It’s just as important today as it is for your future – because after all, you’re only as old as your spine.