When you hear the word “posture”, what image comes to mind?
Most people have the same thoughts when it comes to having "good" or "bad" posture. Perhaps you thought of someone slouched over a computer screen, or someone standing completely upright with their shoulders back and chest puffed out. In reality, the only bad posture you can have is one where you maintain a position for too long. It could be either of the images described above!
Our posture is a manifestation of how we feel mentally or emotionally. Consider this: when you are angry do you tend to cross your arms? When you are sad do you tend to slouch a little more? When you are happy do you tend to sit up straighter? Posture is a cycle that our bodies go through depending on our mental state; therefore any position is normal! However, our bodies do not like it when we sustain any position for too long.
Your Alarm System
If you sit at the computer for too long and start to feel discomfort, it is a good thing! Consider it your body’s way of telling you that it is ready to switch things up. This alarm system is helpful in ensuring we do not stay in any one position for too long. If you try to maintain "good” posture, you will undoubtedly start to feel as much discomfort as you would maintaining “bad” posture. Therefore, try not to put too much stock in the static positions, just make sure you try to change the position you are in before you start to feel pain or discomfort; this matters much more than perfect posture.
Try this: If you tend to maintain certain positions for extended periods to time throughout the day (sitting, standing, etc.), set a timer at the beginning and pay attention to when your body’s “alarm" goes off. Then, decrease that time in the future to change positions more frequently. Focus on reversing whatever position you were in (for example, if you sit with your shoulders and upper back rounded forward, stand up and squeeze your shoulder blades together when your timer goes off).
Posture and Aging
Posture is an important component of maintaining flexibility and range of motion as we age. If you neglect your body’s alarm system, maintaining sustained positions can result in permanent changes over time. One of the most noticeable changes occurs in our spine, which normally has a natural “S” shaped curve. Over time it can lose this natural curvature, which prohibits our body from moving optimally. It can cause neck, shoulder, and back pain as well. In short, it is easier to prevent these symptoms than reverse them, so start practicing now!
Since a majority of the population tends to maintain the “slouched” posture for too long (as opposed to the “upright” posture), here are some exercises you can try when your timer goes off:
Chin Tucks: stand or sit against a wall so that your head comfortably touches the wall behind you (you can place a small towel or pillow behind your head if needed). Tuck in your chin while keeping the back of your head pressed against the wall, and lengthen the back of your neck. Hold 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. Work up to performing 20 times, twice a day over a month’s time.
Thoracic Extension: sit in a chair that hits you in the middle of your upper back with your hands behind your head or across your chest. Gently arch your back over the back of the chair. Try not to have any movement in your lower back, it should all be occurring in the upper back. Perform 10 times, and work up to performing 50 times, twice a day over a month’s time.
Seated Arm Reaches: sit upright in a chair with both arms reaching toward the ceiling. Lift the right hand higher and straighter than the left, then alternate. Repeat 15 times and work up to performing 3 sets of 15 repetitions over a month’s time.
Wall Breast Stroke: face a wall and stand as close as you comfortably can. Place your hands on the wall in front of you. Slide your hands up the wall, then lift them away from the wall and bring them back down as if doing the breast stroke. Perform 15 times and work up to performing 3 sets of 15 repetitions over a month’s time.
Towel at T6 (mid-back): lie on your back with your knees bent. Place a small towel roll at the middle of your back, between your shoulder blades and perpendicular to your spine. Bring your arms overhead if possible, and hold this position for 30 seconds to 3 minutes.
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