Not just for fin­ish­ing school… The ben­e­fits of im­prov­ing your pos­ture

GOOD POS­TURE NOT ONLY HELPS YOU LOOK TALLER AND SLIM­MER, BUT IT CAN IM­PROVE EV­ERY­THING FROM YOUR BREATH­ING TO DI­GES­TION. AND IT’S EAS­IER THAN YOU THINK, SAYS SARA BUNNY

Good Health Choices - - Be Content -

Pos­ture. It’s the sort of thing you might not have thought about since you were told off at school for slouch­ing, but when it comes to health ben­e­fits, pay­ing more at­ten­tion to your align­ment can have a big im­pact on both body and mind.

And if you be­lieve it’s just about stand­ing up straight or bal­anc­ing a book on your head, biome­chan­ics ex­pert Dell-Ma­ree Day says think again. “There’s that clas­sic line we heard from our grand­moth­ers, ‘Sit straight, pull your shoul­ders back’,” she says. “But im­me­di­ately when we hear the word ‘straight’, we over­cor­rect, and this is why a lot of peo­ple who try to im­prove their pos­ture end up feel­ing like they are ex­ac­er­bat­ing aches and pains, as they are pulling them­selves up with the wrong mus­cles.”

So in­stead of get­ting stuck on the word ‘straight’, Day rec­om­mends think­ing ‘tall’ for an in­stant pos­ture boost. “Fo­cus on be­ing tall and re­laxed, and you’ll im­me­di­ately no­tice that your body will start to stack the ver­te­brae of the spine,” she says. “As soon as that hap­pens, your shoul­der blades know to in­stantly slide into the cor­rect po­si­tion. This isn’t re­ally about ex­er­cise; it’s about work­ing with all of the nat­u­ral, in­nate in­tel­li­gence that’s in our bod­ies.”

Mus­cle and bone ba­sics

When it comes to work­ing the right mus­cles for pos­ture, Day says it’s the ones you can’t see that make all the dif­fer­ence, rather than the main mus­cles we typ­i­cally try to tone with ex­er­cise. Out of the 639 mus­cles that work hard to get us through the day, more than three quar­ters are part of an in­vis­i­ble net­work that keep our skele­ton in place.

“The mus­cles we can see make up less than 10 per cent of our to­tal mus­cu­la­ture,” says Day. “We’re all so dis­tracted by the ob­vi­ous ones, but for many peo­ple, we are un­able to get them evenly work­ing and toned, as the un­der­ly­ing struc­ture is wrong. When this hap­pens the body can’t send in­for­ma­tion to these mus­cles prop­erly.”

When things are out of whack, the flow-on ef­fects of poor pos­ture can mean any­thing from hunched shoul­ders to shal­low breath­ing, and Day says the prob­lems be­come am­pli­fied as we age.

“For a lot of women the pelvis can roll for­ward and they de­velop what’s called a ‘sway back’, where the lum­bar curve be­comes too gen­er­ous. This causes back pain, it makes the bot­tom look big­ger than it is, and it makes it harder to tone the hips and butt. As men age, the lum­bar curve be­comes too flat, which can make weight gather around the ab­dom­i­nal wall.”

So how do we get back into align­ment? Ac­cord­ing to Day, who owned a Pi­lates stu­dio and worked as an in­struc­tor be­fore train­ing in biome­chan­ics, with prac­tice we can learn to hold our bones in the right place, which is the best way to fire up un­der­used mus­cles.

‘IT’S ABOUT WORK­ING WITH ALL OF THE NAT­U­RAL, IN­NATE IN­TEL­LI­GENCE THAT’S IN OUR BOD­IES’

“To trans­form pos­ture we need to think about ev­ery bone in the body, and plac­ing bones back in a healthy anatom­i­cal po­si­tion,” she ex­plains. “This draws mus­cle back on to the bone, and those mus­cles re­boot them­selves, a bit like a com­puter re­boot­ing. The mus­cles switch back on, and I’m not talk­ing about the big pow­er­ful mus­cles, but your ‘ev­ery­day’ mus­cles.”

The bad pos­ture pan­demic

With our desk-bound jobs and hec­tic sched­ules, it’s lit­tle won­der so many of us are car­ry­ing around a mus­cu­lar skele­tal sys­tem that isn’t work­ing as well as it should. What’s sur­pris­ing, how­ever, is how younger peo­ple are in­creas­ingly af­fected by pos­ture is­sues, a prob­lem that has a clear link to fu­ture health woes.

“When you first sit up as a baby, at about six months of age, ev­ery mus­cle is work­ing as a team to pro­duce that, and ev­ery mus­cle is ful­fill­ing its pur­pose,” says Day. “But over time, some mus­cles are start­ing to switch off at an in­creas­ingly ear­lier age. This could be a com­bi­na­tion of kids look­ing at screens so young, hav­ing a desk that per­haps isn’t the right height for them, and for a lot of peo­ple, it’s get­ting in­volved with big, dy­namic ex­er­cises be­fore they have a healthy skele­tal sys­tem.”

The biome­chan­ics ex­pert, who teaches pos­ture tech­niques through her pro­gramme The In­vis­i­ble Ex­er­cise, says it’s com­mon for teenage growth spurts to lead to mus­cle is­sues.

“In the teenage years, some peo­ple will grow fast and the soft tis­sue can’t keep up with their bones. For most peo­ple, there is a mus­cle im­bal­ance by the time they are 20, and ex­er­cise can ex­ac­er­bate the un­der­ly­ing prob­lem.”

For adults, stress and life­style fac­tors are the key cul­prits, and Day be­lieves it’s feed­ing into a prob­lem of mass pro­por­tions. “I work with both elite ath­letes and or­di­nary peo­ple. You can be 16, 80, it doesn’t mat­ter − we have a pan­demic of poor pos­ture.”

A world of dif­fer­ence

While grandma may have missed the mark with her sit up straight ad­vice, the age-old idea that good pos­ture makes you ap­pear more con­fi­dent still holds true. Then there’s what Day refers to as the “op­ti­cal il­lu­sion of body shape”, where good pos­ture has been proven to give other peo­ple the im­pres­sion that you’re not only lighter, but younger than you re­ally are.

“When your pos­ture is bet­ter you do feel 10 years younger,” says the for­mer PE teacher. “It pro­motes a strong and painfree body, gives you more en­ergy and al­lows you to move well. When we get back to a healthy skele­tal sys­tem, most peo­ple barely recog­nise them­selves. Not just in terms of gen­eral health but also their body shape and mus­cle tone.”

But if you’re think­ing it all sounds a bit far-fetched, Day can un­der­stand the scep­ti­cism. Part of the prob­lem, she be­lieves, is a cul­ture that puts too much em­pha­sis on the idea that in­tense ex­er­cise is the key to health.

“We can ex­er­cise un­til the cows come home, but for most peo­ple, it’s like plac­ing ic­ing on a fun­da­men­tally poor cake, which is our skele­tal sys­tem. We’re on this down­ward spi­ral of try­ing too hard. We’ve all bought this story that you have to move more, try harder, use fancy equip­ment. But all of the time we’re do­ing that, we’re still only speak­ing to such a small per­cent­age of our mus­cles. Then add in some stress, our over­worked adrenals, and it all gets very com­pli­cated. Mean­while, we’ve for­got­ten the art of tap­ping in to all of these mus­cles that are dy­ing to work for us.”

See op­po­site for Day’s ex­er­cises

for im­prov­ing your pos­ture.

As a self-con­fessed se­rial sloucher, Good

Health Choices writer Sara de­cided to try Up­right Go, a wear­able pos­ture im­prov­ing

de­vice.

“To get started, I down­loaded the app and at­tached the nifty lit­tle gad­get, a bit smaller than a match­box and about half as thick, to my up­per back. While in ‘train­ing mode’, the de­vice vi­brates and makes a mos­quito like buzzing be­hind me ev­ery time I sink into my fa­mil­iar hunch, to gen­tly re­mind me to

stay straighter. ‘Train­ing’ ses­sions start with 10-minute bursts and at first, that was all it took to leave my un­der­used shoul­der mus­cles feel­ing achey. But by day three,

I was get­ting the hang of it, en­joy­ing track­ing my progress, and find­ing my­self au­to­mat­i­cally sit­ting taller. A week later, I’ve still got my train­ing wheels on, but I think I’m now well on my way to mak­ing good pos­ture

more of a habit.”

‘When your pos­ture is bet­ter, It pro­motes a strong and pain-free

body’

‘We can ex­er­cise un­til the cows come home, but for most peo­ple it’s like plac­ing ic­ing on a fun­da­men­tally poor cake’

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