Ask a health and fitness specialist

This column features health, fitness and nutrition questions from students that are answered by a person specializing in that field. Many of us have health and fitness questions that we just never get around to asking. Here is your opportunity to get some answers.

This week’s specialist is Brian Kehler.

Brian Kehler is the owner of Kehler Therapy Solutions and is a massage therapy service provider for Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba. He is also a strength and conditioning advisor to individual athletes, strength and conditioning facilities and oversees programming for select junior athletic teams. Clients have included amateur and professional athletes, national and world champions, Olympians and military personnel.

This week’s questions come from a 2nd-year Arts student:

Student: I find I get lower back pain when I sit at my computer desk for too long. A friend of mine recommended sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair. What are your thoughts on this?

Brian Kehler: No matter where you sit or what you sit on there is increased pressure on the spine in a seated position. An exercise ball will not change this fact.

Some “experts” will argue that you’re working postural muscles by sitting on a ball. While this may be true, it’s so minimal that it’s not worth mentioning. If you want to increase thoracic stability — do it. Don’t think that sitting on a ball will accomplish that.

The key to a healthy lower back is strong flexible hips. Any sort of hip imbalance has the potential to cause back pain. Make sure to get up periodically and stretch out your hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings and adductors. And watch your posture; people usually don’t realize that they slouch, check for more information.

This could go on forever — but these few points will help if you actually do it.

Student: Swimming has been a major form of exercise for me, but I am looking to diversify my workouts. Can you suggest some low impact workout alternatives?

B.K.: Swimming can be great exercise, but you’re wise to branch out into other things. The question is what are your goals? For this purpose I am going to assume general health and fitness, and that you’re not training for something specifically. Here are a few ideas:

Stair climbing — the impact is minimal at the knee and making progressions is easy. Add more stairs, or do the same amount of stairs faster.

Hills — if you can find a suitable hill the shortened stride length makes it easier on joints by taking out the forward momentum of running on a flat surface, yet the grade of the hill makes it difficult and effective.

Cycling is great — most gyms have spin classes you can attend without any prior notice or additional cost.

Last but not least, weight training — just work within your limits and stay in control of the movements.

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