It’s so easy to take our backs for granted, but this collection of muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, and disks provides a great deal of support, flexibility, and strength to the rest of the body. It’s also one of the areas that’s most very vulnerable to injuries ­—statistics show that at least 80% of the population will have a back problem or injury at some point.

Since October is Spinal Health Month, it’s a good opportunity to check up on how you’re treating yours through everyday activities and workouts at the fitness center. Good back care isn’t always obvious, so here are some proven tips.

1.      Protect your back with regular exercise of any kind.

Cardiovascular exercises like walking, swimming, biking, or spending time on the elliptical at the gym aren’t just good for burning calories — they keep your back healthy, too. The full-body, integrated movements they involve keep your back strong and agile.

2.      Protect your back with targeted core-strengthening.

Staying active is good, but building core strength provides even more protection against injury. Your core isn’t just your abs; it includes most of the muscles of your back and torso. When you have strong abs and back muscles, your spine will be aligned and more protected through everyday movements.

Most of us are familiar with ab exercises like sit-ups, crunches, and planks. While planks are also good for your back, additional strengthening moves and stretches include the “Superman” pose, cobra pose from yoga, hip raises, and kneeling extensions. Like other areas of the body, you should be able to do back-strengthening exercises up to 3 non-consecutive days a week.

3.      Protect your back while exercising.

It’s also important to be conscious of your back while you’re doing exercises like squats and deadlifts, resistance machines, and other types of weight-lifting. Even if you have a strong back, failing to use proper form could place unnecessary strain on your spine and lead to an injury. One simple pointer is to keep your back aligned —but not rigid. If you’re not sure how to practice proper form for weight lifting moves, ask an experienced staff member at your fitness center and watch training videos online.

4.      Protect your back during everyday activities.

It’s easier to think about protecting your back while you’re at the gym, but the most common injuries occur when you’re at home doing chores or doing the “weekend warrior” thing without preparing your body. Here are a few simple reminders:

  • Always bend from the hips
  • Squat down to lift a load (use your legs) rather than lifting it from a standing position
  • Avoid sudden twisting motions
  • Lift loads close to your body rather than reaching for them

5.      Follow these other tips for back health.

Here are a few more daily practices that will protect your back:

  • Avoid uneven loads: heavy purses and cross-body bags, carrying backpacks on one shoulder.
  • Practice good posture.
  • Make sure your bed provides the right level of support.
  • Lose weight if you have it to lose (a fitness center membership can help!). Maintaining a healthy body weight places less stress on all areas of your body, including your back.