Posture is body language. Correct posture makes you look younger, fitter, healthier and more confident. And it has an important effect on the health of your muscles, bones, joints and even your lungs and cardiovascular system.
You may have nagged your children to correct their posture. But how about your own? In the words of one physical therapist, “virtually everyone I see has poor posture, and it’s often at the root of the health problem that brings them to me.”
Try this: take off enough clothing to reveal your skeleton and ask a friend or family member to take two full-body photos of you, one from the front and one from the side. Or simply look at yourself in a full-length mirror.
What do you see? Your head should be directly over your body, not pushing out in front, as it probably is. Your chin should be parallel to the floor, your cheekbones and collar bone in a straight line.
How about your shoulders? Are they in line with your ears? Are they level?
Your back should have a natural S or double-C curve. One curve is from the base of the head to your shoulders; the other, from the upper back to the base of your spine.
Your hips should be in a direct line with your ears and shoulders. That line should continue down to your knees and ankles.
How did you do? Don’t feel bad if you didn’t make it — you are not alone. But you can and should do something about it. Remember what you were told: keep your back straight, shoulders squared, stomach in, chest up and head back.
Train yourself so that you assume this posture naturally without thinking about it. It helps, of course, to keep your core body muscles and those across your upper back well-toned, but exercise alone won’t assure you good posture.
One postural problem frequently mentioned by chiropractors is loss of the 40 to 45 degree natural curve of the neck known as the “arc of life.” This curve helps to protect the brain stem and the nerves of the spinal column.
Another is forward head posture, an extremely common problem. Sometimes referred to as “reader’s neck,” it is also caused by slumping in front of a TV or computer screen for several hours each day.
Either of these problems can cause neck and back pain, headaches and fatigue. If you have forward head posture, you’re placing an extra 30 pounds of abnormal leverage on the spine, which can pull the entire column out of alignment. In doing so, it can also reduce lung capacity by as much as 30 percent.
Some chiropractors have corrective care procedures for managing these and other postural abnormalities, but the most obvious first step is paying closer attention to the way you stand, walk, sit and drive.
STANDING POSTURE: For good alignment and balance, stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Avoid resting on your heels, as this can cause you to slouch. Instead, try to focus on keeping weight on the balls of your feet.
Keep your shoulders squared, your head up and back. Imagine you’re reaching for the ceiling with the top of your head.
To test yourself and become accustomed to how proper posture feels, stand with your back to a wall or door. If you’re standing right, your butt, your shoulders and the back of your head should be lightly touching the surface.
SITTING POSTURE: Sit back in the chair; don’t lean forward and slouch over your keyboard, as you’ve undoubtedly been doing for years. The top third of your monitor should be at eye level, allowing you to keep your head up and back as it is when you are standing with good posture.
A head rest was put in your automobile for a purpose. How often do your drive with your head resting against it? Adjust the pad so that the middle of your head rests against it while your back keeps contact with the seat back.
If you’ve had back, neck, knee or pelvic injuries, talk to your doctor or physical therapist before doing any special exercises or maneuvers to change your spinal alignment. In an older person with loss of bone density, hunched shoulders and stooped shoulders represent progressive deterioration of the spine and cannot be corrected with better posture.
The vast majority of posture problems, however, lend themselves to self-correction. All it takes is a little thought and effort.
Rupp is a certified information and referral specialist on aging for NODA Area Agency on Aging. Contact her at 237-2236.