"If you aren't seeing a chiropractor, you must be on drugs."

February 7, 2006 [Volume 7, Issue 4]

In this issue of To Your Health:

  • Low Back Pain Makes You Less Fit
  • Delay Heart Problems With a Good Diet
  • Preserving Your Brain Through Meditation

Low Back Pain Makes You Less Fit

It's a generally accepted theory that people who have chronic low back pain are less physically fit than people who don't have low back pain. There are several reasons for this theory. In some people, for instance, the pain may be too great to exercise; other people may be afraid that strenuous activity might lead to an injury, causing even further pain. A recent study has found that while people with chronic low back pain are indeed less physically fit than people who are pain free, the reasons for being less fit aren't as clear as you might think.

In the study, 108 people with chronic low back pain completed a series of questionnaires and performed a modified cycling test to measure heart rate and oxygen consumption. Results of the tests were then compared to a group of healthy people who were similar in age and activity levels.

Only 84 patients with low back pain were able to complete the cycling test; 86 percent who did complete the test had lower aerobic fitness levels compared to the healthy group. While the authors of the study believed their research provided evidence of a link between low back pain and reduced fitness levels, none of the "usual suspects" associated with the theory, such as fear of injury, pain and low activity levels, seemed to support the link.

If you suffer from low back pain, it doesn't necessarily mean you will become less physically fit. Talk with your doctor of chiropractic about creating an exercise program that will keep you in shape without injuring your back or causing any undue pain.

Smeets RJEM, Wittink H, Hidding A, et al. Do patients with chronic low back pain have a lower level of aerobic fitness than healthy controls? Spine 2006;31(1):90-97.

Delay Heart Problems With a Good Diet

As we age, our hearts don't function as well as they used to. Studies conducted on animals have shown that reducing caloric intake can help them live longer. Reducing calories has also been shown to lower the risk of atherosclerosis in humans. A new study shows that while reducing the amount of calories you consume may help your heart continue to function normally with age, it is just as important that you consume a balanced diet.

In this study, scientists examined heart function in two groups of people. One group consumer a "typical Western diet" that averaged 2,445 calories per day, with 31 percent of the calories derived from fat. A similar group at a "nutritionally balanced" diet that averaged 1,671 calories per day, with approximately 28 percent of the calories derived from fat. People who consumed the reduced-calorie diet had significantly lower levels of certain inflammation markers in the blood. In addition, their hearts appeared to show greater elasticity and less stiffness than patients who consumed the Western diet.

The point of this study? Eating less alone won't reduce your risk of certain heart problems; you also need to make sure the food you eat is high in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Doctors of chiropractic are well-versed in nutrition, and can provide you with a wealth of information on choosing a diet that is low in calories, yet extremely nutritious.

Meyer TE, Kovacs SJ, Ehsani AA, et al. Long-term caloric restriction ameliorates the decline in diastolic function in humans. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2006;47(2):398-402.

Preserving Your Brain Through Meditation

Meditation has been practiced for centuries as a way of helping to balance a person's physical, mental and emotional states. Research has shown that meditation can produce significant positive changes in the brain. However, the bulk of this research has been conducted on people who make meditation a central focus of their lives, or who practice it for significant periods of time each day. What about the effect of meditation on the general population?

To answer this question, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brains of 20 meditation practitioners and 15 people who had no experience with meditation or yoga. The meditation practitioners all practiced a type of meditation called Insight an average of six hours per week, and had practiced Insight an average of 9.1 years.

The MRI scans showed that certain regions of the brain associated with sight, hearing, emotional processing and cognitive function were significantly thicker in the meditation group compared to the control group. The thickness was more pronounced in older, more experienced meditation practitioners, which suggested that meditation could help reduce thinning of the frontal cortex, which occurs as people age.

There are literally dozens of meditation techniques that can be practiced. Some are quite simple and can be picked up with only a little practice; others may require months or even years to master. If you would like to learn more about meditation, talk to your doctor about some of the different methods available.

Lazar SW, Kerr CE, Wasserman RH, et al. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport Nov. 28, 2005;16(17):1893-1897.