Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Low back pain keeps me from exercising. What else can I do to protect my heart?

Ask the doctor

Low back pain keeps me from exercising. What else can I do to protect my heart?

Q. Articles about preventing heart disease or stroke always mention the importance of exercise. But I can't exercise due to severe lower back problems. I religiously take medications for my high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and low thyroid. There must be other people like me who can't exercise but really want to prevent heart trouble. Can you give us any suggestions?

A. We are very persistent about pushing exercise. If there were a pill that could do for heart disease what exercise does, I would promote it for people who couldn't exercise. But there isn't an exercise pill, nor is there one on the horizon.

Back pain can interfere with so many aspects of life. Years ago, rest was a commonly prescribed treatment for back pain. Lately, though, we've come to realize that rest doesn't do much for the problem while activity may. In spring 2005, a team of Canadian researchers sifted through hundreds of studies of exercise therapy for lower back pain. A total of 61 met high standards the researcher set for clinical trials. An analysis of these trials, which included more than 6,000 people, showed that exercise therapy could decrease pain and improve physical function in adults with chronic low back pain.

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