Most of us don't actively think about our posture during the day. However, posture is something that all of us should be paying attention to because it can affect our health in surprisingly serious ways.
While good posture offers us major health benefits such as a boost in energy and easier respiratory health (by putting your diaphragm in optimal position for breathing), poor posture contributes to some serious health issues by placing unneeded stress on certain muscles and joints. These issues go beyond the normal neck and back pain associated with poor posture.
The most common change in posture as we age is the head and shoulders shift forward, the chest tends to curl inward while the spine goes from a healthy S-curve to a less healthy C-position because the pelvis tilts forward.
This results in uneven pressure on the discs. Over time, it causes these cushioning pads between the bones of the lower back, to become compressed and painful. Just a quick glance around a busy room reveals that many people of all ages are starting to or have already developed this stance.
The reality is, it's nearly impossible to hide behind our posture. It reveals and reflects our outlook on the world. While good posture contributes to our physical wellbeing, our self-confidence and the way we feel about ourselves, studies reveal that poor posture works the opposite way. It negatively influences and damages our personal self-image, steals away our self-confidence and positions us as a weak individual.
A good night's sleep is a primary player in how much energy we have at our disposal and how successfully we conduct our lives during the day. How many times have you suffered throughout your day, putting in an average work-load because of lost sleep the night before? Postural deficits could very well be the culprit.
They result in lost sleep because the pain and alignment changes associated with poor posture make it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position. Not only that, but the pain associated with poor posture can wake and disturb an otherwise good night's sleep.
We've known for a long time that the upper neck and back suffer from poor posture, but we can experience pain in our lower body as well from poor posture, whether from sitting or standing. Our joints are connected to our spine and ultimately affected by posture.
Muscle imbalances caused by poor posture place extra strain on our knees, hips and even our feet.
Poor posture is an energy thief. When our bodies are up against poor posture, we add tension and compression in areas not meant to bear that type of weight. This eventually builds up over time and wears down our joints, muscles and bones. Not only does this cause strain in unneeded areas, but it causes us to be fatigued more quickly.
Digestion is another area negatively affected by poor posture. When someone sits in a slouched position, the organs are compressed in the abdomen causing digestion issues and hindering proper digestion. This decreases metabolism and makes it harder to digest food properly. Acid reflux and heartburn are often the result.
In a study published in Health Psychology, 74 people were randomly assigned to either sit slumped or upright. They were then asked to recite a speech and complete a reading task. Those that sat upright reported higher self-esteem, higher levels of alertness, less fear and better overall moods than the "slouchers".
Unfortunately, the damages experienced because of poor posture don't stop with physical pains and ailments. Poor posture causes both physical and mental stress. It not only negatively affects the body's natural alignment, putting extra physical stress on the body, resulting in soreness and pain and decreasing one's motivation to perform. It affects and damages an otherwise healthy mood. This results in depression and opens the door to fear and that translates to mental stress.
The best way to address and improve your posture is to focus on strengthening your core muscles. These are the abdominal and lower back muscles that connect to your pelvis and spine. Many people tend to have a weak mid-section. Unfortunately, this is the worst place to have a weak link because it supports most of the body weight.
When your core muscles grow weak, you lose the supporting and stabilising tone of the back and spine muscles and posture takes on an aged look. It won't matter how much energy you put into what you wear or what final touches you put on your makeup, you can't overcome a sagging posture.
Get started on your strengthening programme. Build your workouts around posture-boosting, core-building exercises and make them a regular part of your routine. You can reverse the damage done by improper posture and get your body upright and pain-free again in just a few months.
Although mum was admonishing us to "stand up or sit up straight" because it makes us look more confident and in control, every time she admonished us to "stand up or sit up straight," she was actually contributing to our overall physical and mental health.
Mum truly does know best!
• Carolyn Hansen is co owner of Anytime Fitness.