Is Your Posture Aging You?

Content provided by our partner Carol Wilson ~

The door opens.  A person enters. He or She walks confidently, proudly, stately, into the room.  Their head is held high, body erect. Their shoulders straight. Their stomach in.  Chest out. Eyes focused. Gait sure and steady – comfortable in their own skin. All eyes are on them.

Do they have a “secret?”

Answer: “Yes.”

It’s what we admire in models, movie stars, and dancers: good posture.

Memories of your mother or grandmother telling you to “Stand up straight” and “Don’t slouch” words ringing in your ear.  At the time, it seemed like just one more rule or annoyance that made you roll our eyes.  Little did you know that their words were not empty instructions but were a prescription for better health as you age.

Your posture may be making you feel and look old.

It is difficult to see yourself and to recognize the probable short- and long-term effects of poor posture.

Visit the nearest senior nursing home facility.  As you walk the hallways lined with residents in wheelchairs, notice their posture. You’ll most likely see person after person with their head hanging forward and their shoulders rounded downward, unable to straighten their spine, staring down at the floor.

There are many reasons how and why, this sad scene occurs, especially for women.

Our health issues can be quite complicated.

All humans start losing bone density in our 30’s.  Women are further impacted by the hormonal changes of childbirth and menopause; the effects of an unhealthy diet; lack of exercise which weakens bones and muscles: a literal downward spiral often begins to ever so slowly steal good health.

Normal changes that accompany aging can also cause certain muscles to weaken, tighten, and lose flexibility. The tendency to lean forward as we age is natural but strengthening your core muscles and keeping the muscles in your torso flexible can help support your spine and promote good posture and better health.

Better posture, better mood

A preliminary study in the March 2017 Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, involved 61 people with mild to moderate depression suggests an upright posture may improve symptoms of depression.  The group as a whole was more likely to sit with stooped shoulders and a rounded back compared with people who did not have depression. Half the people were allowed to sit in their usual slouched position, and the other half sat upright, with physiotherapy tape placed on their shoulders and back to help them maintain good posture. Both groups underwent tests designed to raise stress levels and then filled out questionnaires to measure their mood symptoms. The researchers found that those who sat in the upright posture had lower levels of fatigue and anxiety.  The study concluded that while poor posture resulted in more stress, potentially leading to chronic stress, good posture in the face of stress, maintained self-esteem and improved mood

How poor posture steals your health

Poor posture deprives oxygen from your body and brain

Exercise is at the top of the list for disease prevention, even Alzheimer’s, because oxygen is life.  Exercise feeds the body and brain.  Oxygen equals energy.

If your posture is slumped forward for long periods of time, shallow breathing will result and your brain, heart and lungs will not function efficiently.

Have you noticed how much time you sit in front of a computer during a 24-hour period?  No wonder there’s an afternoon or midday, or evening slump! Literally.

Sitting in front of a computer weakens bones and muscles, often causes discomfort and/or pain and even injury.  Be sure that your eyes are level with the screen and that your arms and wrists are straight and parallel to the floor.

Do you lean forward?  

The ‘forward head posture’ often causes discomfort, back pain, and other problems.

Every time you lean forward even 60 degrees, whether over your phone, over the computer, or over a good book, you are adding up to 60 pounds of pressure on your neck. 

If your head weighs approximately 10 pounds., for every inch forward and down, your neck is supporting an extra 10 pounds. Two inches forward, 20 pounds!  Three inches forward, 30 pounds and so on.

In our tech and computer-oriented and centered society, the “head forward with shoulders slumped” position has resulted in a newer breed of problems like:

  • Tech Ache: The result of repetitive motions used on technology causing pain and strain
  • Phone Spur: Newly formed tiny horn-like structures starting to grow at the base of the neck, now seen in x-rays.

Changes in posture are common with aging. Loss of bone mass and muscle tissue take a toll on your spine, leading to the stooped posture that seems to go hand in hand with old age.  Bad posture doesn’t necessarily have to be an inevitable part of aging, however, there are plenty of steps that you can take to keep your posture at its best, which will help you stay looking younger and healthier.

1) Sit Straight

Sitting up straight is a simple but effective habit to get into. This is especially important for those with office jobs who spend all day sitting at a desk. Sitting up straight with your shoulders back and your lower back supported will do a lot to help you maintain good posture.  Good posture while sitting is a habit worth cultivating. It requires strong core muscles, so consider some strengthening exercises, yoga or Pilates; the abdomen is the heart of good posture and helps improve everything from urinary incontinence to sex.

2) Stretch

Spending the day sitting in the same position is terrible for your posture, so make sure you get up for regular breaks to stretch your back and limbs. You should also try to add some easy stretching exercises to your routine. Try lying on the floor and making slow “snow angels” with your arms for a few minutes each day.

3) Work Out Your Back

Exercises that work out the back are great for posture. Try doing some back extension exercises. Simply lie face down, extending your arms straight above your head. While keeping your head in line with your spine, gently lift your shoulders as far off the floor as possible, then return to the starting position.  Women have weakening around the spine after menopause so it’s crucial to keep the surrounding muscles strong. Strong spine and trunk muscles are especially important when you need to stand for long periods of time. Inquire at your gym about exercises or machines that strengthen the back extensors, neck flexors, pelvic muscles, and side muscles.  Build some weight-bearing exercises into your routine. Osteoporosis, the disease that thins your bones, can cause vertical compression fractures that make us shorter as we age and even lead to dowager’s hump. Weight-bearing exercises help prevent a loss of bone density, so consider lifting weights, walking or climbing stairs to keep you tall and strong.

4) Try Yoga

Yoga is an excellent way to strengthen your core and your muscles while building and maintaining flexibility – all of which can do great things for your posture. Your core muscles – the muscles of your abdomen and pelvic area – are what form the foundation of good posture. The good news is yoga is a simple and effective form of exercise for anyone of any skill level, so if you’ve never tried it before, don’t let that put you off joining a class.

5) Keep Up Your Calcium Intake

It’s common knowledge that calcium is essential for healthy, strong bones so make sure you get plenty of it.  Women between the ages of 19 and 50 need 1,000 milligrams daily; after 50, the recommended dose increases to 1,200 mg.  You should be increasing your calcium intake a little once you’re over the age of 50, which means consuming more dairy products and green leafy vegetables. As you age, your posture can become progressively hunched over as the spinal vertebrae and the discs between them become thinner and compressed, but getting the nutrients you need to strengthen your bones can help to minimize this effect.

6) Get Plenty of Vitamin D

Like calcium, vitamin D plays a crucial role in maintaining bone health, and also helps you maintain muscle strength too – both of which play an important role in posture. You can usually get all the vitamin D you need by regularly spending time outdoors and eating foods containing vitamin D, such as oily fish, eggs and various fortified foods to which vitamin D is added.

Incorporating these tips into your routine will help to keep you standing tall at any age. Practice them regularly and they’ll become good habits that you don’t even need to think about.

Some suggestions:

  1. Place your TV closer. If your television screen is too far away, you may subconsciously lean in or hunch over, so make sure it is at an appropriate distance. The screen size often dictates the best distance.  A general rule is to sit five or six feet from a 40- to a 47-inch TV displaying good-quality HD, and at least six or eight feet from a 50-inch or larger TV.
  2. Get your vision checked. Poor eyesight can make you thrust your head forward in order to read. See an optometrist every year, or as directed by your physician.

Why is Good Posture so Important?

It can keep you looking younger and staying healthier as you age.  Proper posture helps prevent a myriad of health issues, including:

  • Decreased range of motion. Your muscles and ligaments can tighten or stretch if you regularly sit in a slumped position. Once this happens, these muscles and ligaments don’t function properly.
  • Decreased lung capacity. Good posture allows the appropriate amount of air to flow through your lungs. Otherwise, your chest cavity may decrease in size and prevent your lungs from functioning properly.
  • Low back pain. A major consequence of poor posture.
  • Increased discomfort. Poor posture can lead to headaches and pain in your shoulders, arms and hands.
  • Jaw pain. If your head is thrust forward, it can result in temporomandibular joint disease, once considered solely a dental problem.
  • Spine misalignment and rounding. Poor posture can result in a spine that is out of position and may lead to interference in nerve function. Osteoporosis can cause compression or destruction of vertebrae.

Monitoring your Posture

It’s never too early or too late in life to improve posture. Before you undertake an exercise regimen, document your current posture to establish a baseline for future comparison.
Put on your exercise gear or wear comfortable clothes and ask someone to take full-length photos of you from the front, the side and the back. Look at those pictures.  Compare them. You will be able to see if the changes you want are taking place. If not, work to correct that. 

Monitor your posture as you walk past mirrors to ensure that you are standing tall.

Good news:  although everyone ages, numerical age can also be a state of mind – and body. If you have good posture, you’ll look younger and feel younger.  You are younger.

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