Good posture: More health benefits than you might think
Jennifer Kelly is a willowy yoga teacher who carries herself with graceful strength. The 42-year-old’s excellent posture – head high, stomach in, and shoulders gently pulled back and centered over her body – is mostly due to her father’s coaching.
“Posture was a vital part of my childhood,” says the Falmouth resident. “My father reminded me to stand and sit taller. At age 70, he has the best posture of anyone I know.”
Good posture is more critical to your health than people realize, says Lauren M. Wedam, PT, DPT, a physical therapist who specializes in geriatrics. When the shoulders slump and the head moves forward, she says, we automatically change the mechanics of our body.
“When we slouch forward, the lungs can’t fill to maximal potential,” Dr. Wedam says. “The alignment of the body has changed, so things get compressed.”
And that can lead to many problems: bowels don’t move as efficiently, joints are stressed, even digestion may be affected. A study [pdf] by Columbia University researchers found that a tall, expansive posture also decreases cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, which can raise resistance to disease.
Good posture depends on a strong, supple spine, says Dr. Wedam, who practices in Cape Cod Healthcare’s Oppenheim Medical Building in Chatham. Achieving a strong spine calls for good bones and good muscle tone, she says.
To improve your posture, start by increasing your awareness of how you hold your body. “People have to be aware of what their bodies are doing,” Dr. Wedam says. “Sometimes there’s a disconnect.”
She offers these tips:
- Start every day by looking in the mirror and establishing good posture, standing erect and in proper alignment. “Imagine standing with a hook at the top of your head, chest open,” Dr. Wedam says. “I say, ‘smile with your collar bone.’ Walk like you want to be two inches taller.”
- Have someone you know and trust take a picture of you, when you least expect it. “Until you see what other people see, you’re not that inclined to change,” Dr. Wedam says. Consider putting the picture on your cell phone’s wallpaper. “It takes a heck of a lot of practice to change the brain and restore factory settings.”
- If you have to sit for any length of time, be sure your feet touch the ground, and are not hanging, and that you have lumbar support. Try to get up from your desk at least once or twice an hour and walk around. “The body is built to move,” Dr. Wedam says. “When you hold your body tall and in proper alignment, all muscles are functioning efficiently, in balance.”
Strengthening posture can add health and vigor over many decades, Dr. Wedam says.
And it’s never too early to start, she adds. “Many of the issues we have as adults are developed as teens or children.”
Excellent posture established in childhood set up Jennifer Kelly’s future health.
Kelly, who teaches Yoga for Inner Peace at a variety of locations on Cape Cod says that practicing good posture has another benefit: more energy and calm. “I remind myself to sit and stand tall throughout my day,” she says.
“It helps me reconnect and calm my breath, connect to my center. It’s one of the best medicines and greatest gifts you can give yourself.”