Straighten up to stay strong

Stand tall. Pull those shoulders back. Stop slouching.

Stand tall. Pull those shoulders back. Stop slouching.

They are reminders often spoken by mothers. Good posture and balance begin in our younger years and can be nurtured or neglected as we age. Many of the posture issues that develop from not listening to Mom eventually become bad habits. And, as muscles and ligaments gradually go awry, so goes proper posture.

When you are in poor alignment, you create muscle imbalances. Some muscles weaken and others become tight. But it is never too late to begin replacing some of those bad habits with good ones and, in the process, decrease back and neck discomfort.

Introducing small daily changes can make a difference for the better.

Benefits of good posture

Fewer aches and pains because unnecessary pressure on joints and muscles that can lead to pain is eliminated. Good posture keeps bones and joints in correct alignment, minimizing stress on the body.

Increased range of motion, which prevents joint movement from becoming restricted. (Such restriction can cause pain and stiffness.)

Reduced risk of falling because proper posture keeps the body in better balance, enabling you to be steadier on your feet.

Improved breathing because slouching causes shallow breathing, resulting in less oxygen going to the muscles. When standing or sitting straight, the diaphragm muscles become less restricted. You are able to take in more air, providing the working muscles with an increase in oxygen, allowing them to function more effectively.

Increased energy. Restricted airflow that stems from poor posture, combined with the continual strain on muscles, can drain your energy level.

Fewer complications down the road. Poor posture can lead to back issues, arthritis pain, poor circulation and even spinal fractures as a result of increased spinal compression.

Look slimmer. When the stomach protrudes and shoulders are dropped, you can appear much heavier than you actually are. With proper posture, you could look taller and up to 10 pounds lighter.

Common daily behaviours that lead

to poor posture

Slouching, with shoulders rounded forward, is one of the main reasons for upper-back and shoulder pain. Whether you are standing or sitting, your ears, shoulders, hips and ankles should be aligned.

Carrying heavy items on the same side of your body all the time can lead to rounded shoulders and an aching back. Change arms frequently or use a rolling bag if the weight is too heavy.

Wearing high heels regularly alters the proper alignment of the body, eventually causing back and knee pain.

Continually looking downward, tucking chin inward so that the vertebrae do not support the weight of the head as they should. Eventually, muscles, tendons and ligaments that are working overtime to try and keep the head in proper position tighten up, causing tension headaches and chronic back and neck pain.

Improper positioning of a computer screen can cause you to lean too far forward, straining the neck.

Watching television and reading while lying down places your head in a strained position. Use a wedge pillow under your upper body for support.

Not taking breaks while working at a computer or when sitting for long periods of time creates tired muscles that make you slouch forward. Make it a habit to change positions every 30 minutes. Stand, walk around or stretch.

Driving with rounded shoulders. Adjust the seat so that you do not have to lean forward. Sit with your back against it for support.

Here are strength and stretching exercises you can do at home to stretch tight muscles and strengthen weakened ones:

Chest stretch — Standing straight, place hands, fingers pointed downward, on lower back, with elbows pointed to the sides. Without moving hands, move both elbows back as far as you can. Hold to feel stretch in the chest.

Tip: Do not push shoulders upward.

Reverse fly — To strengthen upper-back and shoulder muscles, begin in a seated position. Slightly bend forward, holding weights under knees, palms facing inward. Contract abdominal muscles and slowly lift arms to shoulder height, palms facing down and elbows slightly bent. Slowly lower and repeat for desired number of repetitions.

Tip: Use light weights.

Wall angels — This posture-strengthening exercise stretches the chest and the middle and upper back. Stand with knees relaxed and feet shoulder-width apart, about four inches from wall. Contract abdominal muscles and place buttocks, back and head against wall. Keeping elbows and wrist in contact with the wall, slowly move arms up and down forming a small arc.

Tip: This is more difficult than it seems. Do not force the movement.

Ab twist — Sitting on a mat with knees bent and heels on floor, extend arms straight in front of you, hands pressed together. Contracting abs with knees together, lean back about 45 degrees. Without moving lower body, slowly turn upper body to the right, then left.

Tip: Find an angle that is comfortable but one in which you can still feel mild tension.

If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Trainer Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers, but cannot respond to individual queries. She can be reached at slafit@tampabay.rr.com

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