Our parents always told us to stand up straight. Don’t slouch. They were right. But as you age, you start to stoop over. You look old and you start to walk with a shuffling gait. This can be prevented. Our posture is one of the first things that suffers as you age. It happens gradually and in most cases, you don’t notice it happening. It’s progressive and it reflects a deteriorating body and a depressed attitude. Your posture is the one major place where the mental and the physical overlap on a major scale: Your attitude affects your body and your body affects your attitude. Posture and bearing are an outward reflection of your internal health.
What does bad posture look like? Here are some of the symptoms:
- Rounded shoulders, sometimes developing into a “hump”.
- Bent knees when standing or walking. Shuffling gait.
- Head that leans forward.
- Back pain
- Body aches and pains
- Muscle fatigue
What are the main causes of bad posture? Think about it, you slump when you drive and when you work at a desk or computer. You slouch when we watch TV. You sit more than you stand. Your core muscles have weakened from lack of use and your muscular and skeletal systems are generally out of balance from lack of proper use. Your spine gets out of balance and muscle atrophy and bone degeneration set in over time.
Posture can affect, or be affected by your mental state. Charles Schultz drew a well known Charlie Brown cartoon showing Charlie slumped over with his head down saying: “This is my depressed state”. The next panel showed Charlie standing tall, head up, saying something like, “this is my feel good state”. The final panel shows poor Charlie going back to his slumped over posture saying something like how it’s “easier this way.” All too often, that’s how seniors come across. Yes, your posture has a powerful effect on your mental state and attitude.
Your posture is one of the first things people notice about you when they meet you. Your posture makes a statement about you.
Bearing is a term that goes a little beyond posture. Bearing is the way you carry yourself. Bearing is the way you come across to other people. Your bearing includes your posture, but also includes the way you move, your attitude toward life, your energy level, your level of intensity and enthusiasm. Some call this “charisma”. Other people’s impression of your bearing and charisma is often reflected in their language. Someone who comes across as weak is called “spineless”, and someone who comes across as proud and strong has “backbone.”
Posture can be corrected and will make a huge change in your attitude toward life. How? Here are some suggestions:
- Perform stretching exercises two or three times a week to boost muscle flexibility.
- Exercise regularly to improve muscle strength and tone. Do exercises for your core strength and stability. Yes that includes crunches. But make sure you stretch you stomach muscles by lying on you back with your arms over your head and stretching. If you’ve done your crunches and other stomach exercises right, you’ll feel the stretch.
- Stretch your neck muscles regularly by stretching you head and neck forward and back, and turning your head from one side to another. Lift your head and pull your chin in slightly.
- Make a concerted effort to stand taller and upright. It will take effort and time.
That’s basic stuff. I’ll be writing more about exercises for posture and bearing later, but if you start now, you’ll start improving right away.
Don’t expect results all at once. It took time for your muscles to atrophy and your bones to weaken. It will take time to strengthen your muscles, bones, and underlying infrastructure of joints, tendons and ligaments. You can see a chiropractor or an “Alexander Method” teacher. And, of course, you can do it on your own.
Your posture is critical for your physical health and your attitude toward life. That physical health and attitude come across to others and affect their impression of who you are. Your posture is not all of who you are, but it certainly is included in the overall “you”. You can improve your posture, start doing it now. Do what your mother told you: “Stand up straight. Don’t slouch!”
Thanks for reading.