Nothing can make you feel old vulnerable more quickly than a seemingly and out-of-the-blue bad back. And if you know the feeling, it's probably little comfort that four out of five adults will at some time share it.

Yet, only a small percentage of back problems are truly serious. Eighty per cent of all lower-back pain is simple muscle strain. Even more important: Such pain almost always develops gradually – meaning the moment your back "goes out" is the end result, not the cause. And the cause, more often than not, is years and years of bad back habits.

So, what can you do to buck the odds? That's what's coming up in the next few pages – a ten-minute, ten-move formula to prevent a back problem from ever developing. A little daily back attention at home, at work, in workouts can keep your back young for a long, long time.

A healthy back places that way from a supporting cast of strong and flexible muscles. That's why this simple routine zeros in key back-stabilizing muscles in the torso and legs. It specifically stretches the flexors, the muscles in the front of the body that tend to get tight and short, and strengthens the extensors, the muscles in the back that tend to be underused and weak, as well as the spinal-supporting abdominals.

Results: a trimmer middle and straighter posture as well as backache prevention and relief.

You'll need enough space to lie down in, an exercise mat or soft surface, a small towel, along cord or belt – and ten minutes a day.

  1. LOW-BACK LOOSENER: Lie down on your back with right leg straight. Holding your left knee toward chest with hands on back of thigh. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat on other side.
  2. SIDE-OF-HIP STRETCH: Lie down on your back with right leg straight out on floor. Bend left leg up toward chest. Grasp left knee with both hands and pull leg up and across body toward right shoulder. Feel stretch on outside of left hip. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat on other side.
  3. FRONT-OF-BODY LENGTHENER: Lie down on stomach with hands under shoulders, and elbows bent. Push up to slowly raise shoulders / chest straightening arms as much as possible while keeping hips in contact with mat / floor. Hold for ten seconds, and remember to breathe.
  4. FRONT-OF-HIP STRETCH: Kneel down on towel with left knee and place both hands on right thigh and bent in front of you. Keeping back straight, shift hips forward until you feel a stretch on front of upper left thigh. Do not let right knee bend past right foot. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat with other leg.
  5. BACK-OF-THIGH UNTIGHTENER : Lie down on your back. Place a roled-up towel under your lower back. Keep legs straight. Place cord or belt around heel of right leg and slowly lift straight leg until you feel stretch in back of thigh. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat with other leg.
  6. LOWER-BACK STRENGTHENING : Lie down on back with heels close to buttock. And gently lift buttocks and lower back off floor until thighs and back are in a straight line. Hold for ten seconds, and remember to breathe.
  7. ABDOMINAL FIRMER: Lie down on back with knees bent and heels close to buttocks. Reach hands between thighs. Exhaling, gently curl your head and shoulders up until shoulder blades leave floor. Hold for ten seconds.
  8. WAIST SHAPER: Lie down on left side with legs bent at hips and knees. Lift head shoulder up until left shoulder leaves floor. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat on other side.
  9. WHOLE-BACK STRENGTHENER : Lie face-down, arms along sides. Exhale and gently lift shoulders and chest off mat / floor. Hold for ten seconds, and remember to breathe.
  10. LOWER-BACK RELEASER: Lie down on back with knees bent, heels close to buttocks, shoulders flat and arms stretched out to sides. Slowly lower your knees to left, and gently twist hips and lower back. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat on other side.