Rewards of Good Posture—
It’s a process, building and keeping good posture, but it’s worth the effort. You’ll feel better about yourself, you’ll breathe easier, your internal organs won’t be cramped, and your digestion will have enough space to function well. Slouching puts pressure on the front sides of your vertebrae, which are weaker than the back sides, so a big plus of good posture is that your spine will be safer, with less risk of compression fractures if you have osteoporosis. Add one of the 11 tips below, each week, and in a few months’ time, you’ll be in the habit of standing taller for life!
Lately, women have been asking me how to avoid kyphosis, rounding of the spine, and keep good posture. Everyone wants to know the magical exercise that will give them perfect posture. However your posture looks right now, know that much can be done to strengthen your “posture” muscles to stand tall. Here are some tips and resources for staying upright with the best possible posture.
There are numerous reasons for a rounding of the upper spine. If it’s a matter of improving your posture, not a structural problem or one caused by vertebral fractures, strengthening the back and abdominal muscles can really help, along with increasing the flexibility of the chest muscles. Make sure that you include core exercises in your strength training workouts, not just leg and arm exercises.
One favorite move for standing tall with confidence is an adaptation of the move in Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk called “Pride,” also dubbed the Super Woman.
Holding my arms up in a “V” shape, either sitting or standing, I press back with my arms (not arching my back), pulling my shoulder blades together. I also do it with arms in a “W” shape, dropping my arms lower, elbows bent, and palms facing forward. This is also a good stretch for your chest muscles flexible. You can turn it into a balance move by lifting a leg, which I call a Standing Back Extension. See picture on right. ——->
Watch the Ted talk, “Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are.” It’s fabulous! I’m convinced that emotional confidence can help with physical confidence and an upright posture.
One of my class participants, in her 70s, was dismayed to see that she was slouching in her 50th wedding anniversary pictures. She made a commitment to build good posture, really worked at it, and now always has strikingly excellent posture. Many people want to improve their posture, but it’s challenging, putting enough attention on it throughout the day, to make a difference. We can build strong back muscles, but we need to remember to consistently USE them to hold ourselves upright. About 15 years ago, I walked by a full length mirror early one morning and was horrified that I was pitched forward and not fully upright. I realized then that keeping good posture wasn’t going to happen on its own and committed to staying upright by weaving posture moves into my daily life.
You can build endurance in your posture muscles so that, over time, it gets easier to sit or stand tall for longer periods. Every time you pull your shoulders back and down, sit taller in your chair, or do a standing back extension, you’re strengthening those vitally important muscles that hold you upright.
I’m always seeing if I can get a little taller, as if I’m being pulled up from the top of my head and chest with a string.
No goose-necking it! Slide your chin back, if it’s jutting out, and keep it parallel to the floor. Pull your shoulders back and shoulder blades down while you’re at it.
See if you can create more space between your ribs and pelvis, lifting your upper body upward, like ET did with his neck. Visualize elongating your spine.
I don’t mean suck your abdominal (abs for short) muscles in, but tighten them a little, bracing as if someone is about to poke you in the tummy. Do this whenever you think of it! But, if it never occurs to you to pull your abs in, how about starting the habit by leaving little notes to yourself: abs tight!?
I check my posture once a day by standing against a wall to get as upright as possible. I touch the back of my head, shoulder blades, and butt. Your heels can be out from the wall a little. If your head doesn’t touch, don’t force it by tilting your head back, but keep your chin parallel to the floor and simply use the wall as a point of reference for the best posture you can manage. Choose one spot in your home and remember to do your posture check when you pass by in the morning.
Look at minute 31:00 on the free NOF “Safe Pilates and Yoga for Bone Health” webinar for the method of checking your posture with a dowel or broomstick. I do this with my clients and class participants and it’s very revealing! You’ll be able to instantly see if you’re rounding your back as you bend down if the broomstick leaves your tailbone or head. Even if you don’t do yoga or Pilates, watch the entire webinar for excellent information on posture and body alignment by physical therapists, Sherri Betz, PT, and Matthew J. Taylor, PT, PhD.
Using a chair with a seat that doesn’t tilt back too far helps with sitting up straight. I always adjust my chair seat, if needed, with a small pillow if it makes me round my back. Several of my clients use a “Tush Cush Orthopedic Wedge” and bring it wherever they go because it helps prevent lower back discomfort, as well as helping them sit upright.
It works for some people to put notes around their home with reminders to stand or sit tall, shoulders back and down, and slide their chin back. Some put a timer on their computer or cell phone and straighten up every time it goes off. Find a picture of someone with great posture and stick it on your bulletin board. Straighten up each time you pass by.
It seems that we avoid mirrors as the years go by, but at the very least, check your posture a couple of times a day. Don’t scowl at it! It’s your friendly reminder.
When you’re sitting and your posture muscles are tired, don’t slouch! Instead, use pillows behind your back or a chair with good back support to give those muscles a break, but still keep good posture.
In my two DVDs, I’ve included many exercises that work all of your posture muscles: the upper back, shoulders, abs, and chest, plus stretches to keep your chest muscles limber, making it easier keep your shoulders back and down.
Here are some more posture exercises from the National Osteoporosis Foundation. “Posture Exercises” article
American Bone Health’s site has some good ones, too. Have a look at exercises #6, #7a, b, c, and #12. Scroll down! The “Do It Right and Prevent Fractures” brochure on that page is excellent.
Here’s the Mayo Clinic’s overview on kyphosis for further reading. If you already have vertebral fractures or other spine issues, please see your healthcare provider for guidance.
Do you have other tips for standing and sitting tall? Please share them with us in the comments below. Thanks!