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Headline: Improve your postureActive Living
Improve
your
posture

Don't wait until it's too late
to set yourself straight
Photo of Jessica ThomasBy Jessica Thomas Summer 2017
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Most people don't think much about their posture - at least not until they reach their senior years and begin to notice that they are hunching over and having trouble with balance.

But the truth is our posture problems don't start when we are older. In fact, they often start in adolescence.

As we age, we start to lose muscle mass and bone density, and the cartilage between our joints begins to dry up, which is where our loss of height begins.

In addition to this, poor posture mechanics over the years may have actually exacerbated this condition and created the hunched-over posture that we associate with old age.

So, it is important to realize that posture is not something we should start thinking about once it's already an issue. We should be thinking about our posture right now - no matter what our age - as we are sitting, standing, lying down, or moving.

Most people are born with perfect posture, movement, and mobility. When all of our joints are stacked on top of each other, all loads, forces, and stresses are equally distributed throughout our joints and it takes little muscle effort to maintain a neutral posture. Poor habits, overuse, trauma, motor vehicle accidents, lifestyle, and age pull our bodies out of this balanced state and cause joint misalignment and increased muscle tension, which predisposes our bodies to injury.

On top of that, thanks to the computer, we are now sitting more than ever. It's a little-known fact that the average Canadian sits for about 10 hours a day. Between sitting at school, working at a desk, driving in a car, lying on the couch, or having a cup of coffee with a friend, the hours spent sitting quickly add up. And the longer we sit, the worse our posture becomes, which pulls our body out of alignment.

Throughout the day, look for cues to correct your posture.

Fortunately, there are things you can do during the course of a day to offset the negative effects of sitting. Examples include setting alarms/reminders that cue you to get up and move, walking on your lunch break, biking to work, having meetings standing up, or getting up and moving during commercial breaks instead of fast-forwarding your PVR.

Throughout the day, also look for cues to correct your posture. Here are a few of the most common posture cues and tips about how to correct them:

  • Most people have what is called a "forward head poke." This posture means that your head is sitting farther forward than it should be, which puts a lot of strain on the muscles in your neck and upper back. To correct this, you need to think about making a double chin without looking down at the floor.
  • Rather than thinking "shoulders back," think "shoulders wide." When we think "shoulders back," we tend to overcompensate and arch our backs and open our ribcage, which causes other problems. Instead, think about having your shoulders as wide as possible - almost like they're reaching from wall to wall.
  • Think about pulling your belly button in toward your spine. You should feel like there is a tight band of tension going from hip to hip of your lower abdomen. You want those muscles to be working all day, seated or standing. This helps to keep your pelvis in a neutral position and helps to stabilize your spine. A strong core is one of the keys to preventing low back pain.

Once you have these cues established, the key is to maintain them when movement is added. You have several muscles in your body that are responsible for stabilizing your joints while moving. These muscles need to be strong, so it's important to develop enough body awareness to know when they are not working as they should.

Jessica Thomas is a certified athletic therapist CAT(c) at the Reh-Fit Centre.

Take a positive stance

Here are some quick exercises that can help can improve your posture.

Chest Stretch

Using a doorframe, keep your hand and elbow against the doorframe and step your body through the door until you feel a stretch through your chest on the same side as the hand on the wall. Play around with the height of your arm on the wall. You will feel it in different places throughout your chest. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

While you are stretching the muscles in your neck and chest to provide more length, you need to strengthen the muscles in your back to help to maintain this new alignment. These are the muscles that will maintain that "wide shoulder" position throughout your day and will help to pull that shoulder back into position.

Tubing Row

Anchor resistance tubing or a resistance band around a pole or in a door. Grabbing the ends or the handles and standing up tall, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the tubing towards you. Hold for three seconds at the end of the pull and then release. You should feel tension through your upper back.

Make sure your shoulders are not creeping up toward your ears. Execute 15 repetitions, rest for 30 to 60 seconds, repeat.

When it comes to low back pain, it is almost always caused by poor core stability and the misalignment of your pelvis. When your hip flexors are tight, they pull your pelvis forward, which increases the pressure on your low back.

Hip Flexor Stretch

Stagger your feet so that you are in a high lunge position, knees slightly bent, weight mostly on your front leg. Pull your belly button into your spine as you squeeze your glutes and press your hips forwards. You should feel a stretch through the front of the hip of your back leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

Your glutes and your core are your secret weapons to combat low back pain. The stronger they are, the more stable your pelvis is, and the better you feel. The issue is that for most of us these muscle groups are very weak.

Dead Bug

Lie on your back. Keep your core engaged at all times as you lift your legs up so that your knees are stacked on top of your hips and your knees are bent at 90 degrees. This position is called a "table top" position. From here, extend one of your legs out straight to hover over the floor, then return to table top, and switch legs. While you do this, there should be no movement at all in your torso. It should look as though nothing is happening with your torso at all. Execute 20 repetitions in total, then rest and repeat.