She glides into the room, and her effortless ‘float’ is a magnet for your attention. As you admire her fluid gait, she appears elongated, even lifted. With shoulders back and head erect, she exudes an unconscious comfort in her own skin. Does she have a secret? Yes. It’s what we admire in models, movie stars, and dancers: good posture. If you’re now hearing your mom’s “stand up straight” ringing in your ears, that’s for a good reason.
Since it’s challenging to see yourself, in order to make a connection to the ravages of poor posture, do your future self a favor and visit the nearest senior nursing home facility.
As you walk hallways lined with residents in wheelchairs, notice their posture. You’ll see heartbreaking person after person with head hanging forward and shoulders rounded downward, unable to straighten the spine, staring down at the floor.
How and why this sad scene occurs, especially for women, is multi-faceted because our health issues can be quite complicated.
While all humans start losing bone density in their 30s, women are further impacted by the hormonal changes of childbirth and menopause. Add lifestyle, with the effects of an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise weakening bones and muscles, and a literal downward spiral begins to ever so slowly steal good health.
The main cause of poor posture is muscle imbalance, whether it be front to back or side to side. An imbalance that we physically promote! Weak upper back muscles allow the shoulders to ‘slouch’ forward, which allows the head to fall — permitting chest muscles to become too tight.
Likewise, weak back muscles and/or weak abdominals allow the pelvis to tilt too far back or too far forward, causing back pain. This imbalance results in inflammation, pain and injury.
Ever wonder why exercise is at the top of the list for disease prevention, even Alzheimer’s? Because oxygen is life. But is it just any breath that feeds the body and brain?
Have you ever noticed that as you lie prone on a mat in yoga, Pilates, or flat on your bed, how easy it is to relax into deep diaphragmatic breathing? If you place your hand above the belly button and take in a breath, you can actually feel your lungs fill to capacity, raising your hand up then down.
Now, grab your phone and start reading. Busted!
If you’re slumped forward with shallow breathing for long periods of time, your brain, heart, and lungs cannot function efficiently. And let’s face it: oxygen equals energy. Have you checked your screen time lately? Perhaps you should… there’s no wonder there’s an afternoon slump! Literally.
In his blog THE CHALKBOARD, Dr. Josh Axe, Functional Medicine Dr., asks the following question, “Are you leaning over?” He diagnoses the ‘forward head posture’ as the possible culprit of not only your back pain but also other issues.
Consider his observation. Every time you lean over even 60 degrees, whether over your phone, the computer, or a good book, you’re adding up to 60 pounds of pressure on your neck. So, if the head weighs approximately 10 lbs., for every inch forward and down, your neck is supporting an extra 10. Two inches forward = 20 pounds! You do the scary math.
This position of head forward with shoulders slumped has resulted in multiple new problems like:
Tech Ache: 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, as reported by the Today Show.
Dr. Axe states that poor posture can affect stress levels, referencing an article by the American Psychological Association in Health Psychology. Researchers had two groups wearing devices that either kept them in good posture or slumped forward. They noticed among the negative effects that even the language of those slumped over was more contrary.
They concluded that while poor posture resulted in more stress, potentially leading to chronic stress, good posture in the face of stress maintains self-esteem and improves mood.
Dr. Sara Gottfried, New York Times best-selling author of the “Brain Body Diet, 40 Days to a Lean Calm Energized Happy Self,” reminds us:
“The goal is to stand straighter with ease and less tension, sit taller, increase flexibility, reduce inflammation and pain, move more fluidly, breathe easier and prevent brain fog.”
If that sounds good to you, follow a few of her suggestions for correct posture:
A strong core stabilizes your body in a strong upright position. Keep in mind that your core isn’t just your abdominals; it also includes your lower back, pelvis, and hips. Keeping your core in shape can not only help your posture but can also alleviate back pain and help prevent injury. There are many core-strengthening exercises out there, but one of our favorites is the plank. This exercise helps build up your core and doesn’t require any special equipment. It also doesn’t take long to see progress. Learn more about planks here!
Are your phone or computer the culprits to bad posture and back and neck pain? Do you spend too much time surfing Facebook or shopping on Amazon during the day? Many smartphones offer options to track the amount of screen time you’re getting every day. So keep an eye on it, and if you find yourself spending more time staring at your screen, find ways to get it back down to a manageable amount. If you have to work on a computer each day, set up your workstation so that it’s ergonomic. That means investing in a quality desk chair, raising your screen up to eye level, and getting a keyboard and mouse setup that prevents you from injuring yourself.
To develop good posture, try these moves every day (either sitting or standing).
As you slowly cross arms in front of your body, inhale, and reach for and open to the sky. As you slowly lower arms to each side, exhale. Shoulders then gently roll back and down.
Inhale, and as you exhale, imagine you are reaching back to put your hand in back pockets, but instead, clasp fingers together for a gentle chest and arm stretch.