Before technology changed our lives, most people were just trying to survive. Hard work started at an early age; it was physical and required strength, balance, and movement. Our muscles were healthy and balanced because they were constantly being used and challenged, and this gave us great posture.
Today, in this sedentary, sitting culture, it couldn’t be more different, with our children hunched over computers at every opportunity. There is less physical play, and movement is more repetitive. Our children are less likely to develop well-balanced, opposing musculature and their bodies never get the opportunity to develop as intended. They are less proficient at running, jumping, and competing because to develop healthy muscles, they need to be strained and challenged. Without it, they are far more prone to injury. If they have a life of sitting ahead of them, with their spines bent and collapsing forward, they will become stiff, and even getting around will become more difficult. Being less active throughout life means all their vital body systems will suffer.
As our youngsters constantly hunch, whether at work or play, they are losing core stability, and their bodies are reshaping. The muscles, ligaments, and tendons to the front of the neck, shoulders, and chest shorten, whilst those at the back lengthen. The head moves forward and the back rounds, the muscles of the shoulders and back becoming tighter and tighter as they gradually stiffen.
It gets worse. With their legs bent under a desk all day, their hip flexors and psoas muscles, between their pelvis and lower spine, shorten. This pulls the pelvis and lower back out of alignment, causing instability and increased wear and tear.
If all these posture changes are visibly happening to your kids (take a good look), then they are creating a blueprint for future growth that guarantees future pain, suffering, and accelerated aging. I know that no one wants this for their children, so it’s time to wake up and face this problem. The responsibility for getting your kids back ‘on track’ lies firmly on your shoulders.
Obviously, poor posture doesn’t happen overnight, and correcting it will need a consistent approach over time. There is no quick fix. We need to create healthy structural habits and patterns because, when your posture is poor, gravity will make the situation worse. By adopting the simple healthy habits below, you can slow down the unhealthy changes, gradually stabilising the structure and then move it back towards balance.
These are the 12 things I do and encourage my clients to do:
1. Extension exercises.
If you are slumped at a screen all day, then you must balance this with simple extension exercises. Use a foam roller or a yoga block in the upper thoracic spine. Lie over it and extend. It will probably be a little tender or even downright painful.
If it is, it means you REALLY need to do this. Try wrapping a towel around it to make it more comfortable. If you are already a bit ‘hunchbacked’, then remember, this is already old man’s back or old lady’s back starting to form. Spinal rigidity is setting in and if unchecked, this will spread. This is extremely unhealthy and may be already suppressing your breathing and tipping you forward into old age. Urgent action required.
2. Lift your sternum and pull your head back continually so that it is on your shoulders where it should be.
It will feel awkward initially, but gradually, it will become normal for you. Open and pull back your shoulders.
3. Roll your shoulders.
Every hour, perform shoulder-rolling exercises, forward and back, 10 times, as you pull your head back.
4. Strengthen your upper back.
Use a resistance band to strengthen the muscles in your upper back and neck, to actually hold your head in the right position.
5. Start improving your core strength.
Pull that belly in. Use an exercise ball often. The movement and instability is amazing for bringing the spine back to life, and waking up the tired stabilising muscle and nerve reflexes that become sluggish and weak.
6. Embrace life-long chiropractic care for yourself and your family.
It will keep you on track and help you make healthier choices. You will have better alignment and therefore, better function. You will suffer less degenerative changes and delay the stiffening of age. You will have a healthier nervous system, stronger immune response, and better oxygenation of all your cells. The proactive, early adopters in our society are already reaping the benefits of spinal maintenance care, much as the rest use dentistry for maintaining oral health.
7. Improve your sitting posture, especially if you sit at work all day.
Here are the basics you can follow:
• Your monitor should be directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away, with the top of the screen at eye level. If the screen is too high or too low, you will have to bend your neck, which will cause fatigue and eventual discomfort.
• Adjust your chair so that your lower back is properly supported.
• Your elbows should rest by the side of your body, with your elbows forming an L-shape and your wrists and forearms straight and level with the floor when using the keyboard.
• Your feet should be comfortably flat on the floor or on a support, if necessary. Try not to cross your legs as this affects blood supply to the legs and twists the pelvis.
• Very importantly, you should remember to stop your head from moving forward towards the screen, keeping it balanced comfortably above the shoulders.
• Finally, any movement you can do whilst sitting will help keep your spinal discs and muscles healthy. I have got into the healthy habit of rolling my pelvis forward and backward, and from side to side. Learn to read the signs from your body, you will find it is constantly giving you clues as to what is right and wrong.
I recommend a well thought-out ergonomic workstation that works for you. I don’t believe there is a ‘one-solution-fits-all’, but my favourite workstation (I have a few) is a height-adjustable desk with a sit-stand, saddle-type chair. The chair I use is called a Capisco chair, but there are others on the market. I find these are great for alleviating many of the dangers associated with sitting for hours in bad posture.
Read more: The best ergonomic chairs for your office
You need to find a solution that works for you, according to your circumstances. Feel free to visit our website, www.totalhealthchiropractic.com.sg/a-closer-look-at-sitting-posture, for more detailed information concerning sitting posture and good ergonomic set-ups.
If you can’t get an ergonomic workstation, put a SitFit® or a balance cushion on your chair initially for 20 minutes a day. This is a small inflatable disc that you can sit on. It makes sitting more active and less passive, creating instability, and forcing your brain and body to communicate to maintain balance and encourage better structural alignment.
8. Stand up and stretch every half an hour.
Go and get some water or stand to take phone calls. Whatever works for you! When you are sitting without movement, your muscles and nerve reflexes around the spine are shutting down. By standing, gravitational forces permeate through your structure and tissues, bringing things back to life. Standing will improve blood flow and increase metabolism, whilst burning more calories and reducing blood sugar. It will help tone your muscles and vitally improve your posture. Of course, standing is rarely acknowledged as an exercise as such, but do try and remember the many benefits. And why not set reminders to stand more often.
9. Positioning your computer so that you are sitting straight and you are not looking down to type.
Investing in an ergonomic desk that moves up and down to allow you to stand for periods can be a great idea. Here you can see me at one of the workstations in my clinic with my saddle type chair taking some of my weight whilst I’m effectively still standing. You can be sure I don’t spend all day sitting at my screen, even when I’m spending long hours writing, I tend to move between sitting and standing and this mid-position throughout the day.
If this isn’t possible, consider moving your laptop to a surface that is chest height occasionally. If you alternate between sitting and standing, you will find it very beneficial.
10. Drivers, sit up in a good posture and set your rear view mirror.
When you slouch, you then become aware of it. Every time you stop at the lights, press your head back into the headrest. This strengthens the neck muscles and will ultimately hold you in better shape. Do pelvic rolling exercises to keep the lower spinal discs nourished, and use a lumbar support to maintain the vital lower back curve. Engage your abs as often as possible to maintain core strength and prevent deconditioning.
11. Stretch the back and strengthen the abs.
We are living in a world where seemingly everyone is developing a tight back and weak abs. This is wreaking havoc on our structural balance and integrity. You are well advised to stretch your back regularly whilst strengthening your abdominal muscles. Try and firm your stomach muscles as often as you can remember to do so.
12. Do everything with good posture.
Be mindful of your position as you go through the day. Try and do everything with good posture, whether it be watching TV, driving to work, or doing your daily chores. It all adds up, and small, regular corrections will make a huge difference in the long run.
This is an extract of Tim Errington’s book, Posture Matters- The New Guidebook to Vibrant Health, Longevity, And Maximized Potential. Visit his website to learn more.