2. Strengthen your core
Being a good athlete has demanded that I have a strong, stable core. This refers to all the muscles of the torso and pelvis — the area of the body, including your abdominal muscles, that supports your spine. Like the trunk of a tree supporting its branches, these muscles also help stabilize your body as it moves.
One of the biggest benefits of core training is to protect your spine and back. That's because your core comes into play just about every time you move. When your core is strong, it improves control, balance and performance, while helping prevent injury. Your core is a powerful foundation for your legs and arms, too — which means you can put more force behind each step and run more efficiently. When you exercise your core, you also tone your abs, keep your lower back strong and improve your posture. Some of the best core exercises include planks, crunches and leg raises.
3. Practice yoga
I am positively fanatic about doing yoga several times a week. I love the way it makes me feel physically and mentally, both while I am doing it and afterward. Yoga combines core strength and spine flexibility. When I was younger, I wanted to be strong. Now that I am older, I want to be flexible.
I believe that yoga is keeping me young and flexible, especially in my back. But don't take my word for it: My love of yoga prompted me to research its benefits. I read many scientific studies supporting its benefits for the back. One of the studies was a review of research done on yoga and low back pain. The researchers looked at 10 studies that analyzed whether yoga could help back pain sufferers. What intrigued me was that yoga turned out to be an effective solution for back pain in a short amount of time.
The researchers concluded: "Yoga can be recommended as an additional therapy to chronic low back pain patients."
4. Remain open to different approaches
My thinking about health and fitness has evolved over more than 30 years of trial and error. I've worked with nutritionists, trainers, coaches, osteopaths, chiropractors, homeopaths, masseuses and kinesiologists. I've taken the best of what they've taught me and made it work for me.
The few times in my life when I've had back issues, I turned to either an osteopath or a chiropractor to manipulate my back during regular visits.
An osteopath was instrumental in putting my body back together. I like the idea that chiropractors, osteopaths and masseuses resort to natural means over drugs to get us back in the game, so I feel this approach is worth a try. According to the research I've read, spinal manipulation — including massage — can be as effective as other methods at relieving low back pain.
One important caveat: Before you turn to alternative care providers, always check with your primary care physician first.
Martina Navratilova is AARP's fitness expert.