Sitting up straight is one of those things that simply doesn’t seem to come naturally – kind of like eating kale and avoiding donuts.
Especially in your 60s, with the weight of becoming a ‘senior’ bearing down a life of working and raising a family at a plateau, your back can buckle under the pressure.
Bad posture doesn’t just simply look bad, though. It can have real negative consequences on your health and wellbeing.
Dangers of Bad Posture
Understanding the risks of prolonged bad posture habits might be just the motivation you need to sit up straight. Dangers include:
You might think back pain is an inevitable symptom of getting older. In actuality, bad posture can lead to back pain as well as neck, hip, leg and knee pain.
The more strain and pressure placed on the spine and adjacent muscles when sitting in poor body positions, the more tug and pull the rest of your body will feel as it works harder and harder to keep you upright and aligned.
Additional compression placed on your vertebrae discs can also result in bulging, slips, herniation and pinched nerves – youch!
Give yourself a moment, and try taking a deep breath while you are hunched over the computer. Now take one sitting up straight, with your shoulders back and chest open. Quite a difference, huh?
Over time, rounding the shoulders forward and hunching the back when sitting and standing can place undue pressure on the thoracic cavity which houses your lungs. Deep breathing is necessary to help keep your oxygen levels normal, exercise the lungs and even de-stress.
Reduced Blood Circulation
You hear a ton about the changes in blood circulation that occur as you age. Doctor’s become more and more cognizant of how well your heart is circulating blood through your body.
Everything from heart disease to diabetes can negatively impact blood circulation, which is crucial to making sure all your organs have the necessary nutrients they need to carry out their critical functions.
Poor posture can inhibit good circulation, especially sitting with your legs crossed, cutting off blood flow and potentially leading to spider veins.
Slow Intestinal Motility
All the food, fluids and gas your body transports through the intestines during digestion benefits from a straighter, more open track.
When you spend a significant amount of time sitting, especially in a slumped or slouched position, like watching TV on the couch, your digestive tract can get folded up. That added pressure inhibits the motility you need to ‘stay regular.’
Increased Stress Levels
If pain, shallow breathing and backed-up digestion didn’t already stress you out, a Harvard study found that poor posture can actually increase levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your body.
Bad posture also makes you look bigger than you are – especially in the tummy area! – influencing your own self-confidence and how others see you. This may worsen existing anxiety or depression.
Practicing Better Posture
Other than simply remembering to sit up straight, are there effective and simple ways to reverse your bad posture habits for good? Absolutely!
Stretch and Stretch Again
Understandably, tight, stiff muscles are going to make you want to contract, whether it’s leaning against a wall when standing or hunching over when sitting.
Loosening joints and stretching muscles overtime through different techniques can play an important role in boosting your own posture. Flexible, pliable muscles support a longer, aligned spine and allow for greater range of motion and joint movement as well.
Mindfulness practices like Gentle Yoga and Tai Chi might be your ticket to honing your own flexibility as they incorporate deep breathing, meditation and gentle stretching.
The Cat-Cow pose, for example, is a great way to stretch back muscles, strengthen core muscles and elongate the spine for enhanced posture. Even Yoga styles tailored to seniors, like gentle, chair, restorative and water Yoga, can make a difference in your stretching capabilities.
When it comes to supporting better body postures, it’s not all about how elastic muscles and tendons are. The strength of supporting muscles can go a long way to benefitting a straight back and balanced hips.
To give you an idea, oftentimes weightlifters will experience rounded shoulders because they spend so much time strengthening arm and lower back muscles and not their chest and upper back muscles.
A weak chest and pectorals can’t support that type of weight and lead to hunching and forward turned shoulders.
A myriad of orthotic aids and supports exists to promote better posture practices, including posture back braces and lumbar spine support pillows for the car. Support pillows can be used in the car, in your desk chair, in bed, you name it.
These types of cushions are ergonomically designed to support the natural inward curve of the lumbar spine region, naturally lifting your back and helping you sit up straight and drop your shoulders.
Standing up is a good posture solution. It might seem over-simplified, but it couldn’t be more important in this day and age.
Not only has a recent study from the Annals of Internal Medicine discovered that prolonged sitting increases the risk of early death, but sitting for long periods of time with great posture is just plain difficult.
If you spend hours a day working at the computer, consider investing in a standing desk. You can also sit on a stability ball instead of a chair. Experts also recommend never sitting more than 30 minutes at a time without getting up to stretch and walk around.
When it comes to practicing better posture, no one is accountable to you, except for you. More than simply sitting up straight, good posture will come down to your own health, weight, activity levels and motivation.
What other good posture habits do you have? What’s the easiest way for you to avoid bad posture? Please join the conversation below.