Health Hub

by Robin Gaudette

There is one “exercise” you can do that doesn’t require a gym, piece or equipment or ounce of sweat — exercising good posture.

Proper postural alignment lessens stress on joints and surrounding soft tissue. Posture positively impacts quality of life by enhancing your mood and self-confidence. Good posture can change the way you are perceived by others, improve job prospects and verbal communication.

Postural improvement takes self-talk, positional awareness and a few targeted exercises. Stand up straight just doesn’t work any longer. We “live” in our front body, in a flexed position most of the day. A flexed position is defined as shortening the joint angle. Chronic shortening of muscle and soft tissue could lead to misalignment of joints, developing bad movement patterns or “habits”, or changes in gait. Sometimes when you tell yourself to stand up straight and glance into a mirror, you find that you still don’t look straight and tall.

Proper posture means the ear opening, over the shoulder, over the hip, over the center of the knee, over the ankle bone. The back of the neck is long with the chin about fist-width distance from the top of the breast bone. Your shoulders are open in the front, collar bones wide and the upper arm not rolled forward. Your hands should naturally rest at your side with the palms easily facing the thigh.

You should feel a triangle under your foot of the heel and the area under the big toe and the pinkie toe. The pressure should feel similar on both feet.

Some people with structural issues can’t exact a perfect posture. Simple exercises done daily can improve the “lazy” posture and may help those who can’t stand up straight be a bit more comfortable.

Tight chest and front shoulder muscles can cause issues with your neck, upper back and shoulders. Sitting in a reclined position, writing at a desk, leaning on the table or counter, using a computer and wearing a backpack improperly are all red flags for this area being a problem.

Practice self-massage of the chest muscle, moving your hand or a ball from the center outwards. Stretch the arms behind you frequently during the day. Move shoulders in the opposite direction of the tightness. Roll them back and downward, holding in this position with your thumbs pointing away from the body. Lengthen and stretch the back of your neck by standing against a wall, feet a few inches away. With your head against the wall, use the cue “lift the base of your skull” or “lift the crown of your head,” gently draw your chin toward your throat.

To ease shoulder and upper back tension, stand arm’s length distance from a counter, place feet directly under hips, bend forward holding on to countertop. Keeping your back and neck in alignment, gently allow your hips to drift away from the counter. For the lower body, tight hip flexors can be the cause of many problems. An easy stretch is to sit on the edge of a chair with one leg and buttock off the chair. Pull your leg back so the thigh is at a backward angle, knee points to the floor or slightly back. Tilt your pelvis forward until you feel a stretch in the front hip and thigh.

Start with the self-talk, changing your way of thinking of what good posture looks like. Use words that make you think of lengthening, stretching and lifting versus just being straight. If you think that your posture is adversely affecting your quality of life or causing pain, discuss a referral to a physical therapist with your medical provider.

Pull up a mirror and get started!

— Robin Gaudette is the aquatics wellness coordinator at the Redmond Area Park and Recreation District. Contact her at robin.gaudette@raprd.org .

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