In previous posts I have addressed the isues of postural distortions due to the rise of poor computer posture and too much slouched TV watching (What About Posture, Kids and Postural Distortions). Today I want to be a bit more focused on my pet peeve of poor posture by specifically addressing the spine.
The spine is our the gateway from our brain to the rest of the of our body. While the fitness and medical industries direct your attention to healthy nutrition and regular exercise for improving one’s health and longevity, we often forget that the spine is as essential as the brain to maintaining health.
If the spine is not cared for, you can suffer from a myriad of serious issues ranging from lack of joint movement due to nerve impingement; chronic pain due to compressed or bulging discs; and even lack of mobility if the spine suffers a major bone break.
So how do we take better care of our spines you ask? Here are some helpful tips to address that question:
Reassess your standing and sitting posture.
From how you sit at your desk/computer to how you watch TV. and especially how you drive – you must always be aware to not slouch – to reduce the c-shaped curve you place your spine into when you slouch. Reclining is okay, and you don’t have to always sit like there’s a stick up your butt, but you should constantly be aware if your shoulders and/or hips are rounding forward. Straighten up, relax your shoulders while keeping them level and blood flow will course through your spine with ease.
Stretch in opposition.
In layman’s terms, if you spend a large amount of time in a sitting position where you might assume the c-shaped spinal posture – spend time each day stretching in the opposite direction. The best way to do this is to lay on your back over a large stability ball, relax hips and stretch your arms out wide so that your spine is gently placed into a reverse c-shape. Yoga and other slow moving, spine lengthening disciplines are another way to reverse the effects of c-shape spinal compression.
Enhance circulation through exercise.
Low-impact cardio exercise is a great way to increase blood flow through and from your spine. Even quick bursts of movement (like 10 burpees or 25 jumping jacks) are a great way to heat up and stimulate necessary circulation of blood and oxygen to and from your spine, with the added bonus of boosting your metabolism and energizing your brain, which in turn stimulates circulation through the spine (a non-vicious cycle).
Make spinal posture be a priority in the next few weeks and you’ll not only feel and see a difference, but you’ll soon replace bad habits with more healthy ones and the benefits will compound. Respect your spine, and your health will benefit.
Breathing, something we do automatically thousands of times each day. Even if we try to hold our breath, our brain takes over after just a few seconds and forces us to breathe. It’s so automatic that we take it for granted, But breathing is not just our body’s built-in function for staying alive, it’s also a tool that you can manipulate for the benefit of your body and brain.
Yoga and meditation fans already understand that breathing is imperative to a successful stretching of muscles or relaxing of the mind, but there’s even more to it than that. Breath control can beneficially regulate your blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism, and your body’s negative reaction to emotional stress. Specific breathing technics can also help control the brain’s release (or cessation) of chemicals and hormones that affect your organs and central nervous system. How’s that for something we ignore all day long?
Here’s the key, you must become more aware of your breathing. The easiest way to do this is by studying your breathing habits and keeping a mental or written diary. Over the course of the next few days, take note of your breathing many times throughout the day and especially during specific situations – like when exercising, arguing, driving in traffic, working, dealing with your children, watching TV, and even when eating. Pay attention to the speed you breath, the depth or shallowness of your breaths, and whether it’s from your nose or mouth.
A lot can be learned from these days of study about how you handle stress and how your body is being affected by what you’re focusing on (or more likely fretting over). Set an hourly alarm on your watch or smart phone if you need help remembering to pay attention to your breathing.
Once you see where/when the most detrimental affects are occurring (i.e., rise in blood pressure or heart rate, stress headaches, tension throughout the body, etc.) the next time you find yourself in that situation(s) try this:
Stop what you’re doing
Close your eyes
Take 10 very slow, deep breaths.
The best technique for this is to breathe in through the nose to a count of 7, hold for 3, and then exhale through the mouth to a count of 10. It might take a little training to become comfortable with this count-and-breathe method, but it’s so worth it. If you want blatant proof of the positive affects of this, place your right fingers upon your left wrist (finding the pulse point) and feel it slow down as you breathe).
I cannot stress enough how important breathing is – and for reasons you might have never realized. Go ahead, take a moment and see for yourself. Breathe in, breathe out, repeat.
When I was a very slim 20-something it seemed like every woman who was overweight would say to me “wait until you hit 40, then you won’t be skinny anymore.” Well 40 came and went and I was still underweight. Then it became “ha ha when you hit menopause, then you’ll see!” Menopause abruptly came to call when I was 48 and I’m still not overweight at 52.
But all these forecasts of my physical doom haunted me for years and as I became a fitness professional I looked hard at why age 40, or menopause would automatically trigger weight gain for so many women. What I discovered was that it’s not so much about the age, as it is about what lifestyle you lead, any medical conditions, and your perspective.
Let’s tackle the 40’s first. People say your metabolism slows down by age 40. While there is truth to the fact that metabolism (“the chemical process that results in production of energy and elimination of waste“) does slow down with age, it is not automatic or inevitable. The typical adult slows down their energy output voluntarily, i.e., they work longer hours, drive longer distances, and are more sedentary when home. Also, as we get older we eat more, having more money as well as a wider taste pallet, therefore causing our calories to increase.
Menopause is a different hurdle. There is no question that with the absence of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone (all present in a pre-menopause woman), the body will gain weight and the metabolism will slow down. But again, if an individual stays consistently active and maintains a balance between calories in vs. calories out, the weight gain can be slight and manageable (as it’s been in my case).
Medically speaking, often with the onset of menopause, the thyroid will also give out, tending towards the hypo-activity (under active) which definitely causes weight gain and a loss of energy. But with proper medication, the missing thyroid output is restored and that portion of the weight gain can be reduced. Also, if menopause is a result of a full hysterectomy, or induced as a result of cancer treatments, a woman can experience rapid weight gain. This weight is very stubborn to remove. That’s when our last criteria comes into play.
Perspective. We are a society focused upon the hollow ideals that women have to have perfect bodies and look young and fit all the time. My mother used to say it was too bad that the Zoftig bodies of her generation weren’t in vogue any more because that was a more realistic perspective of women’s bodies and the beauty that they possess. I have a client who would be considered over weight by most standards. Despite her roundness, she is super fit and flexible, and loves to salsa dance and take yoga. She eats well, laughs a lot, and feels sexy anyway. Her husband agrees whole heartedly!
So if you exercise regularly, eat well and clean, and can achieve whatever reasonable physical challenge or goals you desire, then you are perfect the way you are. Your body as it ages is going to change. In some ways I look better than I did when I was 20, and in other ways I don’t. But my perspective is that I can keep up with my 7 year old, I can climb rocks, trees, and lift weights for hours at the gym, and I can sit on my butt and drink wine and eat chocolate and not stress over it. So I’m okay, and life is good. Now if only these hot flashes would go away! Wink wink.