Stand Tall

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I can still hear my mother telling me to stand up straight. Like most teenagers, sometimes I listened and sometimes I didn’t. Recently, I was looking at a group photo with me in it, and there I sat, hunched over! That’s when my mother’s voice from long ago began playing over in my mind. What happened? Had it taken me living half a century to notice I had less than stellar posture?

I started asking questions. Getting older and vanity aside, is there any health risk to slouching or poor posture? The answer is “yes.” When our body slumps, it is not as efficient at performing tasks and we lose both range of motion and strength. But my questions persisted: Was slouching a natural consequence of aging, and was it too late to reverse it? The answers are yes and no.

The bad news is you tend to slouch with age. The good news is the process is reversible. It’s reversible by properly stretching and strengthening the muscles in your upper back and shoulders. Together with a strengthening routine for your mid back muscles, you can help straighten things out.

A personal trainer can give you a stretching/strengthening exercise program to follow. Or, if you are like me, see a physical therapist. As a result of a lifetime of slouching, plus sitting at a computer, aggravated by a new weight- lifting program, gave me what is called “shoulder impingement syndrome”. I am now seeing a physical therapist twice a week to stretch and strengthen my muscles. I’m also keenly aware of my poor posture during the day and remind myself to sit up straight. My therapist said you can retrain your muscles to hold you up straight but it will take at least thirty days.

But don’t wait until you get injured to improve your posture. Keep moving and stretching throughout your day. Change positions regularly. Stand up and walk around for a few minutes every hour.

Also, here are three exercises that you can do at home 3 or 4 times a week:

1. The Doorway Stretch: Stand with your arms resting on the doorway frame, bending at a 90-degree right angle. Keep a straight back posture and lean gently into the doorway. You should feel a slight stretch in the front of your chest and shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds.

2. The Butterfly: With your hands clasped behind your head, lift your elbows up. Now pull them back, at the same time pinching your shoulder blades together. Do this several times throughout your day and/or while lying in bed at night.

3. The T Prone: Lie face down on the floor with a pillow under your abdomen and a folded towel or yoga blanket under your forehead. Engage your shoulder blades by squeezing them toward each other, slowly raise your arms slightly off the ground and hold them out straight, forming a T. Hold for three seconds. Do five sets of five stretches each.

All of this is quite simple, don’t you think? Enough to make a mother smile:)

Lisa Burbage

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