Light exercise helps obese with back pain

A fresh Stanford University study on lower back pain reveals good news: Just a little exercise can go a long way.

It doesn't take much, said Dr. Mathew Smuck, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at Stanford and the study's lead author. Extending physical activities by less than 20 minutes a day will do the trick.

Smuck and his team discovered that the more overweight a person is, the greater the chance that person has of suffering lower back pain.

They also monitored physical activity of nearly 7000 Americans using a motion-tracker and found that small changes had surprisingly big impacts, especially for the most obese patients.

Based on their body mass index, patients fell into four different categories: normal weight, overweight, obese or morbidly obese. For an overweight person, the average nonstop round of "light" physical activity, including walking around the house, cooking or folding laundry, was 1 hour, 53 minutes, to two hours; they reduced their risk of back pain by 17 percent.

By extending their total "moderate" physical activity walking briskly, riding a bike, gardening or ballroom dancing-by less than 20 minutes a day, their risk of back pain dropped by 32 percent. The improvements were smaller for normal weight subjects, whose risk of back was already low, but the heavier the patient, the more benefit they reaped.

The morbidly obese group averaged 1.3 minutes of moderate activity at a time. But if they increased that average by just one minute, their risk of lower back pain was cut by 38 percent.

"More simply put, pushing just a little longer each time you exercise has benefits," Smuck said. "Pushing a little longer can mean an additional minute of exercise multiple times per day, or adding several minutes following a longer period of exercise."

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