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.
2016 was a tough year for a lot of us, and as I look forward into 2017 to formulate my goals and targets I have come to realize that a three-pronged ideal can help us find better physical and emotional health. Therefore, this year I suggest we all adopt the following mantra: “Stand Up. Stand Up Straight. Stand Up Strong.”
These words double as a fitness reminder and a social cue. Anyone with a goal of improved physical shape and health should simply stand up more, walk more and sit less (or at the very least stand up and move every 30-minutes). Likewise we should all stand up for preserving our own personal values as well as America’s tenuous democratic values as we forge into unknown (and for many of us very scary) territory with Trump at our helm.
Stand Up Straight:
I often address the rampant increase of postural distortions in adults and children here in my blog, but this year I am on a personal mission to help everyone improve their health by observing and improving their posture. Your spine is the gateway between your brain and the rest of your body. If you have curved-in shoulders or hips, and knees or ankles that rotate inwards (pronate) you are cutting off and/or shorting out a lot of nerves that bring signals to and from your brain. So set a phone or watch reminder, or buddy up with a friend and remind yourself several times a day to stand up straight and tall, keep your shoulders squared and relaxed, and remember to breathe low and slow.
Stand Up Strong:
This one can be taken both literally and figuratively. First, you must remember no matter how tough your path is currently, this too shall pass. But the key to improving your emotional or circumstantial life is to stay strong emotionally (and physically) and remember how strong you really are. Stand up for yourself and show your strength! Second, we must all stand up in a show of solidarity and strength so we can change that which is not working for all of us. We truly need to stand up strong together against racial, gender, and LGBT discrimination, double-standards of wages and rights, religious persecution, women’s rights, and the general bullying of anyone who disagrees with the “moral majority’s” opinions (that starts with the Oval Office)!
For those of you who find this post a bit too soap-boxy, please indulge me as I am a child of the 60’s and it’s in my nature to stand up for my rights, my health and my peers. So if you agree, repeat after me (and then DO IT): Stand Up. Stand Up Straight. Stand Up Strong!
A recent news report stated that 80% of us spend at least two hours a day sitting at in front of a computer, be it desktop or laptop. A large percentage of the teen and adult populations spend upwards of 5-8 hours! So how does all that time spent in a stationary and postural distorting positions affect your fitness goals?
On the “fitness friend” side of things, many people utilize a myriad of on-line sources to assist their fitness goals in a positive way. Whether exercising to YouTube videos, entering their nutrition into MyFoodDiary, or printing healthy recipes off Pinterest, these are examples of a computer contributing to your fitness success.
However, on the “enemy” side of things, long exposure to computer-posture along with the simple act of being sedentary for extended periods of time definitely bodes badly for your fitness goals. From neck and shoulder strain, to weakness in hips and sciatic nerves not to mention the obvious fact that you’re just not up and moving enough to burn calories and strengthen muscles — all of which sets you up for fitness failure.
So for those of you who cannot (or will not) change their daily quantity of computer-sitting, I propose a compromise. For every hour you sit (or slouch) in front of a computer you must spend five minutes performing a rotation of “isolated-stretches,” “cardio-bursts,” and “muscle wake-ups.”
I suspect many of you are talking to your computer screens right now heatedly informing me that you don’t know what those are! or I can’t get sweaty at my job. Relax, I promise these are easy, relatively light on the sweat index, and the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of five minutes of your time spent on YOU!
Stand up and run through the following circuit of total body isolated (where you work one muscle group at a time) exercises:
Head rolls: gently roll your head to the right, back, left and front (chin to chest) 5 times, then reverse direction 5 times. Make sure you keep shoulders down and relaxed.
Shoulder shrugs: with arms relaxed at your sides, bring shoulders up to your ears and then roll them back (squeezing shoulder blades together) and then down. Repeat 5 times.
Arm circles: Take your right arm and reach (stretch) back behind you slowly circling the arm up over-head, and then down in front of you – 5 times then reverse direction starting the circle in front of you, up over head, then behind. Repeat for left arm.
Hip Swings: standing with feet wide apart and knees slightly bent, place your hands on your hips and swing hips back and forth to the right then left, then back and front (10 each direction).
Stationary Lunges: step back with your right leg, stretching it out behind you while keeping left knee bent to a right angle (do NOT push knee out over toe). Slowly bounce up and down stretching hips and glutes (butt) 10 times, then switch legs.
Any and all other body parts are great to stretch at your discretion, i.e., feet/ankles, wrists, abs, back, neck, etc. I’ve given you the basic areas that get tight with lots of computer-posture sitting.
5 minutes of any type of rapid-fire, total body cardio-based exercises are what’s recommended here. Examples: jumping jacks, burpees, jump squats, jump lunges, or a mixture of all of them.
MUSCLE WAKE UPS:
These are exercises that utilize only body weight but allow you to wake up a large group of muscles. Recommended amount is 10-25 reps, 3-5 sets. Focus on only one, or mix and match.
Push ups (hands on the floor)
Incline push ups (hands on a desk, bench, or wall)
Triceps Dips (hands on desk, bench, or stationary chair)
On the whole, people who are concerned with fitness and their bodies care about their heart, joints, muscles, bones, flexibility, strength, and body fat levels. Almost every body part is fretted over, toned, built, and stretched – every body part that is except the feet. Yet the feet are the gateway to everything we do except for sitting and sleeping.
One of the first things I noticed back when I obtained my first PT certification was the rampant postural distortions of peoples’ feet and how they walked. Millions of people walk in an unstable manner, using only a portion of their feet which results in painful or harmful ramifications throughout their bodies. For example:
If you walk on the outside rim of your feet (supinated) you put strain on the already thin muscles of the ankles which can transfer up into your hips and back.
If you walk tilting your feet inward (pronated) onto the inside or large ball of the big toe, you again can suffer from ankle strain and also can cause series knee pain.
Those who walk almost exclusively up on the balls of their feet (heels rarely touching or bouncing as they walk) can experience tightening of the calves and hamstrings which in turn pull on the lower back as well as painful ball-joint tenderness and swelling.
Finally there is the duck walk or pigeon-toed options (toes pointing at 10 and 2 or inward with heels at 5 and 7) both of which misaligns the hips and can cause sciatic nerve pain and other hip, back and knee issues. (Women in particular tend to duck-walk when wearing super high heels as it eases some of the toe pain.)
For women obsessed with high heels, the ramifications of years of putting all your weight on your toes can result in irreversible foot pain, hammer toes, bunions, and serious knee and back strain. We weren’t meant to have our feet chronically (if ever) in the same position as Barbie dolls – it’s just not good for the body.
So take a look at how you walk. Try to notice if your feet are turned out or in, or where you feel pressure when you take a step. An easy assessment to make is to look at the heels of your shoes – are they worn evenly or on the outer or inner portions only.
If you suffer from foot pain and/or pain radiating up from your feet (ankles, knees, etc.), you might want to spend some time diligently working on walking straight and even – stepping from heel through to toes, feet pointed forward. I would also suggest spending at least 65% of your week in comfortable, arch-supportive, flat (or no more than a 2″ heel) shoes.
In the evening you should kneed your feet with your knuckles massaging your heels, arches, balls of the feet, and even your toes (or get a loved one to give you a well-deserved foot massage). Then spend a few minutes seated while holding your legs out and pointing your toes into a tight stretch (like ballerina feet) and then alternating with flexed feet (heels down toes up) again holding for a tight stretch.
The feet are really the most essential body part to daily living aside from your brain and heart. Do not neglect or abuse them. You’ve only got two and if they get ruined, you’re chair-bound!