“Stand up straight!”, “Sit up straight”, “pull your shoulders back”, “stop slouching”!
“Are you sucking in that tummy and throwing back those shoulders yet, even as you read this? I’ll bet you are!”
We all heard it from our parents and teachers when we were children and teenagers but as older adults, we’re expected to know about good posture and it’s largely up to us to make sure we have it.
Alas, many of us don’t have good posture. In fact, poor posture is a widespread problem in adults and uncorrected poor postural habits can lead to significant complications as we get older – back pain and other aches and pains, muscle fatigue, spinal dysfunction, joint degeneration, headache, rounded shoulders and…. a potbelly. Even lung function can be affected.
Anything sounding familiar here?
There is also evidence that poor posture is a contributor to mental health problems – something that makes eminent sense if we think about how much better and more confident we can feel, simply by standing straight and tall and breathing deeply.
Are you sucking in that tummy and throwing back those shoulders yet, even as you read this? I’ll bet you are!
Poor posture an indicator for aged care
But postural problems need to be taken seriously. A study published in the Journals of Gerontology in 2013 found that independent older people with a particular ‘spinal inclination’ measure were significantly more likely to require admission to an aged care facility.
The study, conducted in Japan over five years, evaluated spinal posture in 804 people (338 men, 466 women) aged between 65 and 94 years who were living independently in the community.
In reporting their findings, the authors said that while there was much accumulated evidence showing “how important spinal posture is for aged populations in maintaining independence in everyday life,” the designs of most previous studies didn’t provide clear, specific evidence of the relationship between spinal posture and likelihood of needing assistance in the future with normal ‘activities of daily living’ (known as ‘ADL’s in healthcare-speak), such as bathing, dressing, cooking, shopping etc.
In this study, researchers followed up the 804 people after 4.5 years. They found that 126 (15.7 per cent) of the participants had become dependent – either having been admitted to an aged care facility or requiring assistance at home – for feeding, bathing or dressing themselves.
Those with the greatest trunk line spinal inclinations were 3.5 times more likely to have lost their ‘ADL’ abilities than those with lower spinal inclination measures.
…a key thing to remember from the outset is that it takes a ‘conscious’ effort at the beginning – while it is feeling awkward and unfamiliar – until the new muscles gain strength and good posture develops.
It’s never too late to stand up straight
While it might not be possible to totally reverse a lifetime of bad postural habits, all the experts agree that proper exercises and stretching techniques and plenty of movement can achieve major improvements in terms of pain relief, mobility and improved balance at any age.
There are some links below to some useful resources and tips on improving posture but a key thing to remember from the outset is that it takes a ‘conscious’ effort at the beginning – while it is feeling awkward and unfamiliar – until the new muscles gain strength and good posture develops. After that, it becomes much easier and eventually completely normal.
Having a posture buddy who can photograph or video you and give you feedback can help too. Do the photos at least once a year to check for changes – positive or negative. Check yourself in the posture photos or in a full-length mirror from head to toes.
Are all 33 of your vertebrae stacked in a straight line? Is your head level and balanced above your shoulders? Are your shoulders level and even over your hips? Are your hips level or is your pelvis tilted forward or backward? Are thighs, knees and feet aligned? Is your ‘core’ slightly active?
A physiotherapist who can give informed, tailored advice, is a good place to start!
Chin up, good luck!
Tips and hints:
Video lesson: The Benefits of Good Posture
This video from the TED-Ed YouTube channel explains why standing up straight is about more than how you look. Your posture affects every movement your body makes, and can make your muscles work harder to perform normal tasks, or become weakened over time.
Better Health Victoria
Better Health Victoria has some helpful advice about improving posture and maintaining it but there are lots of other useful resources. Physiotherapists and chiropractors can be a big help here, helping you to get there correctly and safely. See some of the tips republished below:
Improve your general posture – suggestions include:
- Remember the rule of ‘curve reversal’ – for example, if you’ve been leaning over your desk, stretch back the other way.
- Perform stretching exercises two or three times a week to boost muscle flexibility.
- Exercise regularly to improve muscle strength and tone.
- Stretch your neck muscles regularly by turning your head from one side to another.
- Your abdominal muscles support your lower back, so make sure they are in good condition. Do ‘abdominal crunches’ (lie on your back and curl your ribcage and pelvis as close together as possible) rather than straight-backed sit-ups (which exercise the muscles of the hips and thighs).
- Avoid standing on one foot for long periods of time.
- Cross your legs at the ankle, rather than the knee.
Maintain good posture – suggestions include:
- Avoid sitting in soft, squashy chairs.
- Use lumbar rolls to support your lower back when sitting in regular chairs or driving the car.
- Switch to ergonomic chairs in the office or for any activity that requires you to sit for long periods of time.
- Make sure your mattress is supportive enough to keep your spine straight when lying on your side.
- Use a pillow that supports your neck.
- Keep your back straight and use your thigh muscles when lifting heavy weights.
Elder Gym (US site)
Lots of good information and advice in these posts:
Health Direct – Australia
Livestrong – US site