Step 3: Listen to Your Mother and Stand Up Straight!

Good stretching helps improve your posture

If you could do just one thing to look younger, what would you pay for it? Some people pay thousands of dollars to erase their wrinkles with injections or hundreds of dollars for miracle creams to rejuvenate their skin. I have one trick that won’t cost you a dime, and yet many people ignore it. It will not only make you look younger, it will ward off some of the typical curses that come with aging, such as stiffness and back pain, balance problems (a.k.a. fumble feet), negative self-image, and circulatory issues.

What magical habit would accomplish such awesomeness? Proper Posture. Pfft, you say. Way, I say!

Our modern culture does little to promote proper posture (say that fast three times). We drive to and from work and sit at a computer all day and come home to sit in front of the TV until we go to bed. As a result, from high school to middle age and beyond, our posture gradually stoops lower and lower.

As Americans, if you’re from the US, we seem to excel in poor posture. Compare your mirror image to Queen Elizabeth, for example. She’s in her 90’s and still has a ramrod straight back. It’s part of her job, you say, to wear the crown, but I think not. Proper posture is not entirely inherited by royal genes. It is largely a habit. And habits, good or bad, are practiced over a lifetime.

Certainly some inherited traits and diseases contribute to posture problems, but in the event you don’t have the Hunchback of Notre Dame for an ancestor, you can take steps to stand taller and straighter.

True confession here, my posture is very poor and has been since I was a teenager. My parents encouraged me to stand up straight, but I didn’t. I could go into the psychological reasons I resisted and possibly justify my choices, but it wouldn’t change the fact that I practiced my way into chronic back problems.

And I’m not alone! Some statistics (sorry, no one reference here) estimate that 65% of people with desk jobs experience back problems due to their ergonomically-challenged desk, chair, and work habits.

Other lifestyle habits play a part, too, such as our daily commutes and couch-potato evenings. For a mom, add on pregnancy(ies), and the years of picking up heavy car seats, carrying a wiggling toddler, and sleeping with a child who insists on ramming her head in the middle of your back while shoving her feet in her dad’s face. Oh, my aching back!

Good news! You can practice your way out of what you practiced your way into. In addition to the stretching exercises I recommended here and here, pay attention to your habits in the following areas:

Sitting: Most people spend an inordinate amount of time sitting, from sitting at work to sitting in the car to sitting on the couch. It’s hard to maintain proper postureposture for that amount of time, but the habit of slumping in the chair or on the couch wears down the your back muscles and strains your gluteus maximus (better known as your buttocks). There are several items to consider in the sitting category, such as ergonomic chair choices, but lets limit it to the art of sitting.

* Sit up. Back straight. Shoulders back. Don’t lean forward.

* Sit in the middle. Don’t lean to one side or the other.

Bend your knees at a right angle. Don’t cross your legs at the knees.

Place your feet flat on the floor. That’s easier said than done for us short people. I use a stool at my desk to keep my knees even with the chair and prevent my feet from dangling.

Take as many breaks as possible from sitting. Walk around for 5 minutes or so several times a day. Stretch and take deep breaths to refresh your brain and body.

Standing: Proper posture while standing is probably my biggest struggle. Some of it is due to past injuries. Some of it is due to laziness. Being real here. When standing, the body should be in a fairly straight line, from head to toe. Some refer to all your joints being stacked – ears over shoulders; ribs over hips; and hips over knees.

* Don’t stand with your knees locked. Slightly bend them.

* Don’t shift your weight to one side. Center your weight over both feet.

* Don’t fold your arms across your front. To pull my shoulders back, I’ve started holding my hands behind my back.

* Don’t tilt your head to one side or lean it forward past the shoulders. Keep your chin up and between your shoulders.

* Don’t stick your rear out too far or tuck it in too much. Stand as neutral as possible, meaning keep it lined up.

Driving: The sitting advise works pretty much the same for driving, minus the stool if you’re driving. That wouldn’t be very helpful. Of course, you need to steer, so your arms will spend a lot of time holding the steering wheel. However, there are still some tips for making your commute reasonably comfortable. Let’s start with adjusting the seat.

* The height of the seat should allow you to see the dash and over the steering wheel easily.

* The seat should be far enough forward to allow you to touch the pedals (obviously) and not have to lean forward to reach the steering wheel, but not so close that you can rest your head on the steering wheel. I tell my daughter this quite often. Short people problems.

* The recline of the seat can be a personal preference. Too far back and your tailbone will take too much pressure. Too far forward and your leg circulation may be restricted. Slightly reclined seems to be the consensus.

Besides the seat, while you’re driving, keep your posture similar to sitting in a chair. Don’t shift your weight to one side. Keep your head up. Besides seeing the road better, your neck won’t get so stiff. If you’re driving long distances or just running lots of errands without getting out of the car, schedule stretch breaks. Get out of the car and walk around. Roll your shoulders and stretch your back.

Sleeping/lying down: No one can control the crazy positions they end up in during the night. I know I’m not the only one who wonders why one arm is behind my head while the other is shoved under my body. However, you can position yourself when preparing to sleep and hopefully avoid the crick-in-the-neck, sleeping arm syndrome.

* A body pillow will change your life. Use one under your knees if you sleep on your back. Or put it between your knees if you sleep on your side.

* Check your pillow. A good pillow should support your neck. Not your head. Keep the pillow under your head and neck. Not your shoulders. I hate pillow that are too fluffy or too hard. Call me Mama Bear, but my pillow has to be “just right.”

Don’t forget that stretching will help your posture. If your back and core muscles are weak from years (decades?) of poor posture habits, it will take time to strengthen them and develop new habits. Use the stretches we’ve been practicing to loosen up those tight muscles, and in my next post we’ll look at new stretches to help specifically with proper posture.

What is your most challenging posture habit? Tell me in the comments, so we can work on it together.


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