Here's how your current lifestyle is giving you horrible back pain

Lifestyle habits

The spine is the framework of your body. It’s what makes us stand tall and distinguish us from the rest of the animal kingdom. With our current lifestyle, however, we put a lot of pressure on the spine. Therefore, many people struggle with horrible back pain throughout their life. This can be caused by many different reasons, but many of these risk factors involve your current lifestyle.

Most people can form an idea of what these ‘bad’ lifestyle habits entail, but research also confirmed that these factors can lead to back pain: smoking, overweight/obesity, sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, and bad posture from working behind a computer or spending too much time scrolling through social media on the phone1.


Meet Bill

To explain to you how your lifestyle is causing your lower back pain, follow along with Bill. Bill is a fictional character and a representation of the ‘average’ person suffering from low back pain.

Bill is a 51-year-old man with a wife and two grown-up children. In his ‘younger’ days, Bill was very active as a basketball player and running around with his kids. Bill has a typical 9-5 desk job, but he likes the work he does for his company. He has been growing his career over the years through hard work. The stress of work turned him into a smoker a couple of years ago. He also started eating more and less healthy, causing him to be overweight at the moment. After the long work hours Bill enjoys having a drink with friends at the local bar or watch TV from the couch.

His physician has been warning Bill he should change his habits and lifestyle, because he’s at risk of getting cardiovascular, metabolic, or other diseases.

Bill has been complaining about back pain for the last couple months. Even before that, the pain would come and go. He would go to the physiotherapist, feel better after finishing his sessions, but then he would fall back into his old patterns and the back pain would eventually come back.

So let’s discuss these bad patterns that keep giving Bill this horrible lower back pain. Look at the overview and click to find out more:

Unhealthy eating pattern leading to overweight

Starting our journey with an all-familiar phenomenon: an unhealthy eating pattern. It is widely known and understood that having an unhealthy eating pattern can cause a lot of health issues. Added sugars, saturated fats, big portions, can over time all lead to overweight or even obesity.

This can in turn lead to cardiovascular diseases like a heart attack, metabolic diseases like diabetes type 2, and even to lower back pain.

How, you may wonder? The back pain comes from the extra weight that your lumbar spine has to bear, which increases the stress on all structures around it. This results in microtrauma that will accumulate and can turn into chronic back pain1.

Lack of physical activity

bird dog

One of the most critical factors that leads to low back pain is lack of physical activity2.
According to the World Health Organization, the physical activity recommendations for adults are3:

  • Regular physical activity
  • Do min 150-300 min of moderate-intensity or at least 75-150 min of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity or a combination of both throughout the week
  • Do muscle-strengthening activities (moderate or more intensity) for all major muscle groups (min 2 or more days per week)
  • More minutes per week of either moderate-intensity or vigorous-intensity can lead to additional health benefits

Activity doesn’t necessarily mean exercise or workouts. Taking a walk, riding your bike instead of using the car to work, doing chores at home, can all contribute to your physical activity of the day.
Doing less than the recommended amount or nothing at all can lead to weakening or tightening of the muscles. You’ll feel less flexible and mobile and you are more prone to developing back pain. Practicing the right exercises to strengthen your core muscles (like the ones described in this blog post) combined with other activities that keep you moving, will help prevent or better low back pain, among other health benefits.

Bear in mind though, that exaggerating with the physical exercise and overtraining can still lead to back pain2. Overtraining might indicate wrong posture to compensate for the weak muscles and thus lead to back pain.

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Sedentary lifestyle

Somewhat similar to the lack of physical activity is the sedentary lifestyle we have nowadays. It’s not just that we all got lazy to do anything active, we have also grown accustomed to our seated position. We sit on a chair to eat, to work behind a desk, to watch tv, to drive a car, to take public transport or even wait for public transport, to wait for your doctor’s appointment, …
Even the small waiting time adds up to the total amount of hours you’re sitting in one day.
Sitting on a chair puts extra pressure on your spine, over time you adapt a bad posture, your blood flow is interrupted and the glucose in your blood is not being used up. All these make prolonged sitting a prevalent risk factor for back pain2. In ‘7 things to avoid with back pain‘, you’ll learn more about what is bad for your back.

So to get rid of that horrible back pain, you have to do more than that 30-minute workout for back strengthening. More lifestyle changes are necessary to significantly reduce the time you’re sitting and to get a proper active lifestyle. Some examples to do are: parking the car further so you have to walk more, go for a walk around the block, take the stairs instead of the elevator, use a stand-up desk instead of one where you need to sit down, do small household chores everyday, go grocery shopping, …

Bad posture while doing daily lifestyle activities

back pain

I’ve talked about it before, but having a bad posture while doing daily lifestyle activities can seriously damage your spine and back. Bad posture can be caused by being overweight, sitting for too long, standing in one place for too long, using your smartphone or computer a lot without paying attention to your posture.

The key to improve your back pain or prevent back pain from coming, you should be more aware of your posture throughout the day. This goes for standing, sitting posture, lying down, and lifting heavy items.

To learn more about this and other things to avoid when you have back pain, read our blog post on this subject.


Maybe unexpected, but also smoking has an influence on developing back pain. When you smoke your bone mineral content reduces. This gives you higher risk of osteoporosis and degeneration of the spine. Secondly, with smoking also comes intense coughing. This places a lot of pressure on your core (discs in the back, abs in the front) which can lead to a herniation of the disc. And thirdly, reduced blood flow because of smoking can result in disc degeneration, causing back pain1.

Add daily back pain exercises to your lifestyle

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Now you know how your lifestyle causes you back pain

By now Bill learned how his lifestyle is causing horrible back pain. He knows which bad habits to address: unhealthy eating, not enough physical activity and a more sedentary lifestyle, wrong posture and smoking.

These lifestyle habits not only put you at higher risk of back pain, but other diseases too. Exercising and making other (small) lifestyle changes can definitely improve your health and back problems.

Note that the information provided here is scientifically based, but does not replace any medical advice.

A personal trainer can help you every step of the way, not just with the workout sessions, but the overall changes that are necessary to reach your goal. Contact me today for a free consultation and together we take that step towards a healthier future.
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  1. Kahere M and Ginindza T. The prevalence and risk factors of chronic low back pain among adults in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: an observational cross-sectional hospital-based study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 2021; 22:955. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12891-021-04790-9.
  2. Roggio F, Trovato B, Ravalli S, Di Rose M, Maugeri G, Bianco A, Palma A, Musumeci G. One Year of COVID-19 Pandemic in Italy: Effects of Sedentary Behavior on Physical Activity Levels and Musculoskeletal Pain among University Students. Int. J. Environ.
    Res. Public Health, 2021; 18:8680. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18168680.
  3. WHO guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2020. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.


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