As you age, your spine changes. It can lose thickness and elasticity, which affects your posture and overall health. Strengthen your spine, improve your posture and age gracefully with the following tips.
Why Is Posture so Important?
Poor posture affects your body in several ways: It causes you to slouch and allows your back muscles and bones to shift, increasing pain and stiffness. It also affects your overall alertness, breathing, digestion, blood circulation and organ function.
You may also experience headaches, neck and joint pain, and leg and feet issues because of poor posture — all important reasons to improve your posture as you age.
Do you slouch as you work online, watch TV or play with your grandchildren? You may not realize that you're slouching, but your back will feel it. Slouching increases the pressure on your spinal cord by as much as 15 percent.
Make a conscious effort to stop slouching and sit straight. To do that, you'll need an ergonomic chair. It can be a traditional, kneeling, saddle or recliner chair and will include:
Height adjustment: A pneumatic adjustment lever allows you to raise or lower the chair. If you're using a traditional chair, your feet will be flat on the floor, your thighs horizontal to the desk, and your arms resting at desk height.
Backrest: With an adjustable height and angle, the backrest should be 12 to 19 inches wide and support the natural curve of your spine.
Seat width and depth: The right chair will include a seat that's wide enough for your body. Its depth will give you 2 to 4 inches of room between the back of your knees and your chair as you sit with your back against the chair's backrest.
Adjustable lumbar support: Raise or lower the lumbar support as needed so that you're comfortable as you sit in the chair.
Armrests: Adjustable armrests allow your arms and shoulders to relax comfortably.
If you sit at a desk
You can implement these suggestions to help keep your spine straight:
• Look straight ahead
• Put your feet on the floor so that your knees are level with your hips.
• Adjust the height of your chair or use a footrest, stool, box or pile of books if necessary.
• Bring your elbows in close to your side to prevent the temptation to lean.
• If you're looking at a computer screen or reading, place the monitor or book at eye level.
• Every 20 to 30 minutes, stand and extend your arms away from your body. This action opens your body, and when you sit down again, you'll automatically sit straighter.
A strong body and good posture go together. You can achieve both results when you do several exercises regularly that support your spine and improve your back health and posture:
Strengthen your core. The muscles around your abdomen and pelvic area. When your core is strong, those muscles keep you in alignment. As a bonus, a strong core can reduce urinary incontinence and improve your athletic ability. Pilates, yoga, walking and various gym machines and exercises strengthen these essential areas.
Support your spine. The muscles around your spine weaken as you age, so use resistance bands or gym equipment to exercise your back, neck, pelvic and side muscles.
Stretch often. Whether you stand against the wall and make slow snow angels, perform lunges or do twisting lumbar stretches, stretching exercises improve your spine health.
Do resistance training. It can halt or reverse bone loss and osteoporosis.
Perform weight-bearing exercises. Walking, running, stair climbing and weight lifting build bone density. Walk daily or hit the gym as you strengthen your spine and posture.
Take up Pilates, yoga or Tai Chi. These disciplines improve your core, flexibility and strength. They're also easily adaptable to your needs no matter how flexible or strong you are.
Practice balancing. Start by standing with your feet together until you're able to remain steady. Then practice standing with a staggered stance. Finally, stand on one leg with support from a chair or wall and then without support. As you successfully balance, you also improve your posture.
Improve Your Diet
Believe it or not, what you eat can affect your posture. The right diet strengthens the bones and muscles that support your spine.
Ideally, a healthy spine diet includes an abundance of green, leafy vegetables and a variety of fruits. Eat enough protein and calcium, too. A multivitamin is also essential as you ensure you have enough vitamin D, calcium and other essential nutrients in your daily diet.
Be sure you stay hydrated, too. Water supports the elasticity of your spine's soft tissue, decreases painful disc bulges or ruptures, and helps your spine maintain its correct shape.
Check Your Medication
The medicines you take address your health issues, but they can affect your posture. Talk to your doctor about your posture and ask if any of your medications or dosages are negatively impacting your posture or spine strength.
Next, ask for a bone mineral density scan. It detects osteoporosis. With the results, you and your doctor can decide if you need hormone-based medications like calcitonin, Evista (raloxifene) or parathyroid hormone or bisphosphonates such as Boniva, Fosamax or Reclast. These medications can stop or reverse bone density loss, strengthen your back and improve your posture.
Your body and spine change as you age. You can fight back and strengthen your spine, though, in several ways. Start implementing these tips today, and you'll improve your posture and reduce your health risks