August 13, 2022
“Stand up straight…don’t slouch!” How many times did you hear this command, or something similar, from a parent or teacher when you were younger? If you were like most young people, you straightened up for a few minutes until the adult was no longer present, then went right back to your slumped over posture. You can get away with bad posture to a degree when you are young, but as you get older those bad posture habits can quickly catch up with you.
Why is good posture important? Before we answer that question, let’s go to a more basic one. What exactly is good posture?
Well according to experts in these things, “correct” posture means being able to go through a checklist and say yes to each of these points:
If you are standing,
your body weight should be evenly distributed on both feet
Hips should be even
Your abdominal muscles should be slightly engaged
Your spine should be in the neutral position, with no arching or flexing
And finally, your chin should be parallel to the floor.
Now, let’s move to the checklist for sitting:
Keep your chin parallel to the floor
Your feet and your knees should be pointing straight ahead
Keep your shoulders, hips and your knees at even heights
Whew!! That’s a lot. Plus, how are you supposed to go about your day, sitting and standing and bending multiple times, without driving yourself crazy or looking like a robot?
The trick is not to go through some mechanical checklist that is nearly impossible to replicate and sustain, but to do exercises specifically designed to strengthen your musculature and improve your balance so that good posture comes naturally and does not have to be forced. Of course, you can use the checklists once in a while to spot-check your posture and to measure your progress.
The exercises you should do to improve your posture fall into two types: One - core strengthening, and Two - balance exercises.
Your core muscles start at your lower rib cage and extend to your buttocks. The names of these muscles are the long rectus abdominismuscles in the front of your torso, the external and internal oblique muscles on your sides, and the muscular girdle in front known as the transverse abdominis. One of the best ways to strengthen your core is to take Pilates lessons. Everyone, from young to old can do Pilates and it’s proven to help strengthen your core. Of course, there are other ways as well, and you can go to a personal trainer for help, ask at your gym or look up videos online.
One of the best ways to improve your balanceis to enroll in tai chi classes. Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that looks like aerobic dance performed in slow motion. It is an especially effective form of exercise in improving balance and preventing falls. And like Pilates, anyone can do it, from young to old. Research has shown that tai chi can reduce falls in seniors by up to 45 percent. It also increases leg strength, flexibility and best of all, it’s a “zero impact” exercise, putting very little strain on the joints themselves.
Tai chi is even suitable for people in wheelchairs or who must initially sit in a chair when first starting out. There are many different approaches to tai chi, so try to visit several different classes from different teachers to see which one feels right for you.
Good posture can improve blood flow, support your muscles, and help to keep your blood vessels and nerves healthy. People who have good posture are less likely to have back and neck pain as well.
With a combination of core strengthening exercises and working to improve your balance, you’ll no longer have to think of achieving good posture as something you have to work on, as it will simply come naturally.