Posted: Friday, November 6, 2015 3:00 am
Maybe you remember your mother telling you to stop slouching and stand up straight. Or she may have encouraged you to place a pile of books on your head and attempt to walk around the room in a perfectly balanced way so the books stayed put.
I remember resenting my mother’s continual hounding to stand up straight, but the thing is ... Mom was right. Good posture has its important benefits.
For one thing with proper posture, you are far less likely to trip and take a fall, something that becomes of real concern as we aging boomers, and those beyond, become less steady on our feet. By looking straight ahead, rather than down, our body is more in balance and we have a clearer picture of what’s going on in the world around us.
Simply put, correct posture is good for our health. It minimizes stress on muscles, bones and joints. The more that posture deviates from the correct position, the greater the stress placed on our structure. Over time, that stress will most likely cause problems in the upper body, including the neck and shoulders and/or the lower body in the hips, knees and ankles. If we place additional weight on the spine, this will lead us to muscle atrophy and back problems. The posture of bending forward at the waist and looking down defines the look of an old person. And nobody wants to look old.
You may want to assess your own posture and notice:
Are your shoulders coming forward? Is your upper back rounding, the head jutting out in front and the buttocks overextended in the back? These poor postural habits may start when we are young but then become more entrenched and more exaggerated as we age.
What exactly is good posture? The back of your head is in line with your shoulders, which are directly over your hips, and your hips are stacked over your knees, which are in line with your ankles.
The good news is that our body can be retrained to recognize what proper posture feels like, and then we can make the adjustment from bending over at the waist to having the straight-backed posture of youth. Even if our muscles have adapted to poor posture, with considerable effort and constant awareness, we can retrain the muscles. We may be required to build those muscles around the spine, known as the spinal erectors. It has been proven that muscle tone may be regained even at an advanced age, but working with a professional is recommended.
Since most of us sit much of the day at desks, in the car, at dinner, at the movies, it is equally important to have good seated posture. Slouching in a chair or on the sofa creates all kinds of problems. The bent-over posture cramps the lungs, making it difficult to draw deep full breaths, so our oxygen intake becomes limited, which is a factor in making us age more quickly.
It may be said that sitting in chairs is dangerous to your health, especially if you do it consistently much of your waking hours. Structurally, we were not meant to sit, folded into a chair, except to occasionally rest from activity. There is much evidence that sitting for prolonged periods increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes and even death.Dr. James Levine, co-director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Obesity Solutions initiative and the inventor of the treadmill desk, says he is now absolutely convinced that sitting is, in and of itself, a root problem of many of our chronic health problems.
To reduce our sedentary time, it is suggested that we take one- to three-minute breaks every half-hour during the day to stand (which burns twice as many calories as sitting) and also stand or exercise while watching television.
If for work, we are required to sit long hours, feeling handcuffed to the desk, be aware of what is the proper seated posture. The shoulders pull back and down, and the chin is lifted. The spine is straight. The soles of the feet rest comfortably on the floor, and the thighs are roughly parallel to the floor.
To avoid wrist problems, place your keyboard so that while you are typing, your forearms are parallel to the floor or tilted slightly forward. To avoid neck problems, place the monitor so the top of the screen is at, or just below, eye level.
Clearly, it is in our best health interests to stand, walk and sit up straight. But if this does not motivate you sufficiently, maybe vanity will. You will look thinner, taller and appear much more confident to others. The overall impression you make is very much determined by your posture.
Angelena Craig of Newburyport and Sarasota, Fla., teaches Wellness Workshops, Slow Flow Yoga, and Sit Down and Move classes. She may be reached through www.anewagingmovement.com.