What Your Posture Can Tell You about Your Health

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It's a chicken-or-egg question: What came first, the stress that caused bad posture, or the bad posture that enhances a foul mood? Our emotional and physical health are intertwined; awareness of one often leads to straightening up the other,

Our bodies are designed for movement and stability. As we age, we create muscle imbalances from bad habits in how we sit, stand, move, even exercise. Poor posture is a great example of this imbalance. Standing up straight requires finding both physical and emotional balance.

It's hard work, but the rewards are worth it. Here are some other aspects of the body that are affected by our posture:

Tension Headaches

Think of your body hunched over a computer or slouched on a couch, then look at somone else working or driving a car. You'll often see people with their spine hunched and their chin jutting out as if their head is in front of their body. Our heads weigh 10-12 lbs, but for every inch that the head is forward of the spine, the weight doubles. That can be an extra 24-36 lbs that your neck and upper back muscles are trying to hold up, which creates tension!

Try this: sit up straight in your car, press your head against the headrest, and retract your chin in toward the spine. Drop your shoulders and feel the length in the back of the neck. Hold for 10-20 seconds. At the desk, set a timer: every 30 minutes stand up, stretch, and gaze at something more than 15 feet away.

Restricted Breathing

When we hunch our backs, it causes our torsos to collapse in, causing breathing to be more labored than it needs to be. Rounded shoulders further restrict the expansion of the rib cage, which limits the movement of our diaphragms. This not only leads to a lack of oxygen, but it also prevents our diaphragms from performing its duty as an important core stabilization muscle. And if our diaphragm can't can’t descend properly, it won't be able to draw in nearly as much oxygen when you inhale.

Try this: watch yourself breathe in a mirror. Do your shoulders lift when you breathe? Do they move before your belly? See if you can breathe by expanding the ribcage and breathing down into the low back without moving your shoulders.

Fatigue

Our bodies get tired of fighting gravity. When we're tired from life and our mood is down, our bodies slouch even more. The best way to counter physical and mental fatigue is by finding time to move and time to rest more!

Try this: At work, set your timer to 20 minutes: move in some way, whether it's a quick shake, a squat/rise, or a brief walk. Also take 10 deep, full belly breaths to calm the mind. Remind your muscles of what it feels like to slip back into normal.

Appearing older than you are

Grandma knows best when she tells us to stand up straight. Poor posture not only has us appear older (and not in the wise, distinguished way!) but it could be the first step toward a dowager's hump, a double chin, a potbelly, or swayback. Healthy spinal posture immediately makes us look taller and slimmer, and can create the impression of self-confidence. Next time you're out doing some people watching, take a look at how they carry themselves and how you'd rate their outward appearance.

Damage to life expectancy - Research shows that sitting for extended periods decreases life expectancy. In fact, sitting as much as 11 hours a day decreases life expectancy by 40%! Think about how many hours you sit; at work, in the car, at home at dinner and on the couch. Even if we exercise for 30-60 minutes a day we can't counteract how much we sit. Get a standing desk, and find a way to move throughout your day.

Digestion

When you sit in a crunched position, your intestines are folded up, slowing everything down. An antidote: lie on your back and gently massage your belly, starting at the belly button and moving out in a spiral in a clockwise direction (12 o'clock being at your sternum, 6 o'clock at your pelvis). Then spiral in the other direction, back to your belly button. Always end the practice with a downward movement over the sigmoid colon, on the left side of your belly. This simple technique helps to gently move things along in the intestines.

The Happy Effect

In a study from San Francisco State University, students were told to either walk down a hall in a slouched position or to skip. The slouchers reported increased feelings of depression and lower energy than skippers. Try skipping for a few minutes the next time you feel gloomy. A bit of the 'fake it till you make it philosophy!

Hold your head high, spine straight and tall, and see how much these simple changes can affect your outlook on life. Even our language reflects our perception of a person's character—a person who is 'spineless' is weak and lacks courage; someone with pride and an inner sense of trust has backbone.

Standing up straight is hard work. The older we are the more bad habits we have to counteract. Dr. Brenda Ku and Dr. Michael Burke are experts in posture work. They teach their patients how to stand up straighter with diagnostic and treatment tools to improve postural imbalances and increase our total body health.