May might have been Posture Awareness Month, but Pittsfield, Mass. chiropractor, Dr. Stephen D. Tosk, says "Good posture matters all year long."
Most of us, from young children through older adults, are affected daily by modern technology, be it by looking down to text a friend, curling up on the couch to watch television or spending long hours seated in a chair in front of a computer screen. But this summer, we're exceptionally prone to failing posture by doing activities we love — lugging around luggage and hopping a plane to a fun summer destination or cramming ourselves into a car for an epic road trip. And while eating fresh garden produce offers great nutritional value to our diets, gardening itself can do a number on our bodies, as we spend long periods on our knees weeding or picking vegetables.
"You're not going to have perfect posture all the time, but there's a long-term benefit to building an awareness and learning how to readjust yourself to a better position," Tosk said.
According to PostureMonth.org, "Good posture is more than standing up straight, and requires more than "keeping your shoulders back." To improve posture you have to strengthen how your body balances, and how it moves."
The article goes on to warn how, "Sitting is the 21st-century posture. Our technology-driven work and recreational habits are a primary cause of neck, shoulder and back pain."
The evidence is out there about how long hours of sitting and being sedentary can put people at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease, and life-threatening falls, in addition to the daily aches and pains, even if you're the type to regularly exercise. Your posture also affects activity in your respiratory and circulatory systems, as well as how you look, feel and what you body language communicates to others.
The Vermont Sports Medicine Center's "Guide on the Importance of Posture," characterizes posture as "the position in which our bodies are held when we sit, stand or lie down," and notes how, "The least amount of strain is placed on our body when we are in a good posture. If our joints are not properly aligned in good posture, the force of gravity causes excess stress on parts of your joints as well as the ligaments that support them."
What that's all about, said Tosk, is keeping posture muscles active. "Yoga is good. Pilates is good. Exercise is huge," he said.
At work, that means using a standing desk, yoga ball chair, getting up from your desk to walk around or stretch, or simply incorporating the "20/20/20 rule" into your lifestyle — making sure you take a 20-second rest break, every 20 minutes to move your head and look up and out or over at something 20 feet or more away from your computer screen or desk project. This helps not only the posture, but allows the mind and vision to refocuses too, reducing stress and strain.
Need more of a reminder? Acclaimed chiropractor Dr. Steven Weiniger, author of "Stand Taller Live Longer: An Anti-Aging Strategy," and his team developed PostureZone, a free posture assessment app that helps you analyze and track your posture-changing progress. The PostureZones themselves include four areas of the body: legs, pelvis, torso and head.
According to PostureMonth.org, "The human body is designed to walk and run, not sit in a folded, cramped position for hours. Problems begin when we work the deep core muscles balancing our body in only a small part of their full range of motion. Unused muscles adapt and atrophy, and overtime our posture weakens."
The healthy posture campaign promotes the phrase, "ACE your posture," to help people focus on the alignment of their bodies, with the acronym standing for "Awareness. Control. Environment."
Awareness means always checking your posture. "Remember how your mother was always saying, 'Sit up straight'? I can tell you the ones who listen come out better in the long run," Tosk said.
Control is about being able to control your posture through exercising and repositioning your body according to the PostureZones. Imagine your head and spine being attached to a balloon and allow that to guide you to lift your head and tilt your chin up and away from your chest, gently centering it over your body. The other postural muscle will then become engaged to help you stay aligned and not slouch.
Environment is about modifying how you go about your work and home life and making things more accessible and posture-friendly. This could include using a chair and knee pad to support your body weight while gardening, using an ergonomic pillow for travel, and maybe ditching the tablet or smartphone to notice and engage with the world around you instead of looking down to focus what's condensed on a small screen.
Note: Electronics aren't the only culprits. It's important to look up and move away from that coloring book, knitting project or puzzle from time to time too.
Tosk said the key to better health by posture is to practice it and pass it on to the next generation.
"The spine grows until you're about 25 years old. When you have a forward head or hunched posture for long periods of time, you interrupt the normal curvature of the neck," said Tosk. The normal curvature of the neck and spine should be like a reverse letter C, allowing them to curve inward so it pushes your head and chest upward, shoulders back, and engages the stomach and pelvic muscles.
"It's important to get to kids in their developmental stage," said Tosk, "This certainly has to start at home with parents promoting awareness and people gradually developing a habit."