Fitness First: Pay Attention to Posture

By Friends & Neighbors September 15, 2011 19:16

“Stand up straight!” We’ve all heard this great advice. How we stand and carry ourselves directly reflects how we feel, and good posture is key to a healthy lifestyle.    

Our bones and muscles were designed to work together and help us keep moving, yet as we age, we often become more sedentary. Many people spend most of their days sitting, which further weakens muscles already declining due to normal aging. This can change our spine’s natural curves and cause permanent problems.

Kyphosis is excessive outward curvature of the spine seen in the neck or mid-back, sometimes referred to as chicken neck or humpback. Excessive inward curvature that affects the lower back, making a person appear swaybacked, is called lordosis.

These conditions can be caused by inactivity, poor standing and sitting habits, arthritis, neuropathy, recliners, chronic pain, injuries, poor balance, hobbies, computers, desk jobs and excess abdominal weight.

The song “Dem Bones” is a simple way to explain why ankle pain turns into back pain and so on: The body’s bones and muscles are connected, and each side of our body must be aligned for proper balance and posture. With poor posture or chronic pain, the body compensates, which can lead to falls, trouble breathing, neck strain, orthopedic pain – even poor self-image.

Proper posture places your ears, shoulders and hips in alignment. For some this can be a quick adjustment, but for others it may take time. The trick is to remind yourself throughout the day, every day, to adjust your posture.

While walking, standing or sitting, pull your shoulders back, tighten abdominal muscles and squeeze in the buttocks (just remember that advice, “Stand up straight!”) Adjust your car’s rear-view mirror at proper posture level; this will remind you when you start to slouch while driving.

We refer to the group of muscles supporting your spine as your core. These include the abdominals, buttocks, lower back, pelvis and hip muscles. An exercise program targeting these muscles is a great way to improve posture and prevent or reduce future back problems.

Diet also affects posture. Calcium-rich foods can help prevent osteoporosis and enhance weight loss. Spinach, kale, non-fat milk, fortified orange juice, soybeans, and enriched whole grain breads are great sources.

Improving your posture will help you radiate confidence and vitality, look younger, and feel better. Here are five simple exercises that can help:

1.   Pelvic tilt: Lie on back with knees bent. Tighten the buttocks and abdominal muscles, hold for 5 seconds; 2 sets of 10.

2.  Abdominal crunch: Lie on back with knees bent, support neck with hands, lift up and contract abdominal muscles; 2 sets of 10.

3.  Upright rows: Use dumbbells (3-8 pounds). Palms facing you, lift weights up with elbows raised outward. 2 sets of 10. Emphasize pulling shoulders back.

4.  One-Leg stand: Stand with aligned posture on one leg. Hold 10 seconds and change.

5.  Yoga and tai chi: Both these exercise programs focus on posture.

Krista Howell is an exercise physiologist who teaches senior fitness and supervises cardiac rehab patients for Sonora Regional Medical Center.

© 2011 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Friends & Neighbors September 15, 2011 19:16