Day 8: Why Posture Matters
Dr. Mark Green, a podiatrist, knows how important our feet are to our entire wellbeing. As a podiatrist, he is an expert in the medical and surgical treatment of the foot and ankle, and he regularly sees people coming to his office seeking relief from profound foot pain.
At a foundational level, this pain in our feet affects our posture, and it can make the rest of our body hurt, too. As Dr. Green says, “I can’t tell you how often people tell me that if your feet hurt, you hurt all over. And how true that is. If your feet are uncomfortable, you’re going to compensate. You’re going to walk differently. You might walk on a different part of your foot. That will affect how your muscles, your joints, everything functions all the way up.”
As Dr. Stacy Jimenez, a chiropractor who specializes in the feet, explains, “Our body is our framework and just like a house or building, it has a foundation. When you look into buying a new home what's one of the first things you evaluate on the integrity of the home? Its foundation! Because if there are cracks, shifts or changes seen in the foundation one can typically trace those all the way up to the roof! The same thing applies to our body's framework. This is why paying special attention to our foundation, our FEET, can have such a positive impact throughout the rest of our body."
Because your feet are the foundation of your body, one of the important teachings in pilates is to balance your weight between three points in your foot. Point 1 is the knuckle behind your big toe, point 2 is the knuckle behind your smallest toe, and point 3 is your heel. Focusing on that triangle helps you keep your weight evenly distributed and gives you a solid foundation.
Evaluate the shoes in your closet. What kinds of shoes do you spend most of your time in? Are they high heels? Flip flops? Do they have a supportive sole and arch support? What kinds of shoes would give you the best foundation for the lifestyle you lead?
Grab your most frequently worn pairs of shoes and check them out. Are they worn out? Is there a pattern of wear on the soles? Is the outside edge of the heel worn out? Or is the inside edge of the ball worn out? Are the insides worn?
In addition to the shoes themselves, if you wear orthotics, check the wear and tear on them as well. The common advice is to replace your orthotics every 1 to 3 years.
If you’re answering “yes” to most of these questions, repair your shoes or consider investing in a new, supportive pair. Having feet that feel good is definitely worth the investment!
Day 9: Change Your Environment: The Car
How long is your daily commute? Beyond that daily grind, how much time do you spend in the car? Picking up kids, going to sports practice, meeting friends for dinner? For most of us, it starts to add up to a lot of time each day.
In the car we have the problem of getting into a particular position and not moving (other than our hands and feet) until we get to our destination. We don’t even really shift our weight around like we might in an office chair. If we have bad posture while locked into this driving position, it can get stressful on the body very quickly.
Along with this, your posture can have an effect your mood, and that’s true for your posture in the car as well. Do you get angry during your rush hour commute? Do you yell at other drivers? Improving your posture while you drive can help relieve unneeded physical tension, help you breathe deeply, and help you to feel calmer. These are all are excellent reasons to change up the way you sit in your vehicle.
Adjust your car so that the seat and mirrors are aligned to your best posture. You’d be amazed at how little time it takes to do something so simple and effective!
Sit in your driver’s seat. Sit with your bum all the way back in the seat and on your sit bones, rather than slumping and tilting your pelvis backward. Move the seat forward or back to determine where you can comfortably reach the pedals. As you’re adjusting with the pedals, make sure that you are not shifting all your weight into your left hip, instead keep your sit bones even. Check this over a few times. It matters! Line up your shoulders over your hips and your ears over your shoulders. Sitting up straight and tall, adjust your mirrors so that you can comfortably see out of them.
Now that your car is correctly adjusted for your body, it can serve as an easy reminder to you of how you should sit. If the gas pedal feels too close, it means that you’re slumped in the chair. Ditto if you can’t see out of the rearview mirror.
Day 10: Change Your Environment: Workspace or School
Most people are spending 6 to 8 hours at school and at work, sometimes even more. They sit so at their desks so long that it actually harms their health! So much so, in fact, that the habit of sitting is now considered the “new smoking” in the way it harms the body. They get focused on a task and wind up hunched over the computer, putting an extra 60 pounds of pressure on their neck and upper back. They also hunch their shoulders up around their ears and hurt their wrists manipulating keyboards and mice.
This can have a variety of effects on your body. Some probably seem obvious, but others you might not have ever thought of before:
Poor posture can lead to chronic back pain and disc degeneration.
It can affect your balance, which is important for simple tasks like walking and getting up out of a chair, but also for bigger things like preventing falls
It collapses the lungs, limiting your ability to take full deep breaths
Poor posture squeezes internal organs, like your stomach and heart, which can lead to digestive and/or cardiovascular problems, respectively
For most of us, the majority of our sitting time is spent in front of a computer at work or at home. Change up your environment so that it’s optimized for extended periods of sitting. Make sure your work station allows your body to be in the best possible alignment.
Your computer monitor should be at eye level. This might mean adding a small shelf to your desk to raise it up or raising the height of your chair so that you are face to face with the computer screen.
Put your keyboard at elbow-height. This allows you to keep your shoulders down and away from your ears, keeps your elbows close to your body, and keeps your elbows, wrists, and hands in a straight line.
Use a chair that supports your lower back. If your chair doesn’t come designed with lumbar support, add a small cushion.
Position your chair so that your hips are slightly higher than your knees.
Put your feet flat on the floor. If you had to raise your chair up to align your computer screen and keyboard and your feet can’t touch the floor, use a small footrest.
Day 11: Change Your Environment: Watching TV
You’ve gotten to the end of your busy day and you’re tired, mentally and physically. You deserve a few minutes to relax and just sit on the couch. So, you flop down, flip on the TV, and just zone out.
If it was just for a few minutes, we wouldn’t worry so much. But does your “few minutes to relax” turn into watching a 2 hour-long movie or binge-watching your favorite tv show? Do you fall asleep on the couch? How many nights per week do you wind up sleeping on the couch or in your armchair? Even if it’s just one night a week, that’s still at least 8 hours of being in that awkward position. It adds up.
In a recent study, Australian researchers found that for every hour that you spend watching TV, you reduce your life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. That doesn’t sound like much, but The New York Times reported that the average American watches 5 hours and 4 minutes of TV every day. So if the 21.8 minute reduction is true, and if you watch 5 hours of TV every day, that means that you shorten your life by almost 2 hours by slumping on the couch every day.
Another, more immediate problem is sitting on the couch or your favorite chair and having to turn your head to see the TV. Many of us have arranged our rooms so that the body will point along a single, straight axis, but the TV is in the corner or along another wall, so we have to turn our head to see it. Sitting with your head turned to one side may not be uncomfortable when you first sit down, but it puts a lot of strain on your neck after 2, 3, 4 or more hours of television watching. Don’t put the TV where you’ve got to turn and twist your head around to view it!
Look at your favorite spot to relax in the house and note the position that you take while using it. You can even have a family member take a picture of you. What changes can you make to your furniture arrangement that will make it more comfortable for your back and neck? What changes can you make to your body position when you relax so that you don’t put strain on your neck or back?
As with the other life environments we’ve talked about, make sure that you are optimizing the space around you so that it’s easier for you to have good posture while using it.
Day 12: Take a Break!
In A League of their Own, the baseball movie with Geena Davis and Tom Hanks, all of the Rockford Peaches players are given lessons on etiquette. The movie shows hilarious scenes of them eating at a formal dinner, pouring tea, and practicing their posture by standing with books balanced on top of their heads. Watch a clip here (1 min 29 sec).
It seems when most people think about posture, they think about it in this polite, static way. Posture is reduced to what you look like when you stand still or how you position your body when you’re sitting down to tea. But posture isn’t just about standing or sitting still; it’s also about how our body operates when we move.
Humans have to move in order to be well. Our bodies are designed for movement and this movement keeps us healthy. One challenge of the times we live in is that so much of our world is designed to sit. We sit to drive our car to work, we sit at a desk at work, we sit to eat dinner, we sit to talk to our family, we sit to watch TV.
We’ve said before that sitting for too long is so bad for you that it’s now regarded as ”the new smoking.” Sitting is something that often takes over the way we function within our lives. Everyone accepts it without thinking too much about it, but the fact is, it’s a public health crisis! You absolutely must recognize the inherent danger of sitting for long periods and make the small changes needed to protect your health.
Think of it this way: you know how eating and drinking a lot of sugary things can damage your teeth? It corrodes them and causes cavities and decay. Well, I say, “Sitting is to the spine what sugar is to the teeth.” Too much sitting can damage your spine, causing decay and hurting your health.
The simple solution: movement.
Set a timer to take a break every 20 minutes. What do you do during your break? Today, just stand up. When the timer goes off, you stand up for 5 seconds. If you feel the urge, use the restroom, get a drink of water, but if not, just stand up for 5 seconds.
Standing for 5 seconds is a tiny change. If taking a break every 20 minutes feels too disruptive to your working day, try one every 30 minutes, or even one every hour. Find what feels good for you. Once you’ve established that break interval as a habit, try making the goal a break every 20 minutes again.
Day 13: Add to the Break: YWTL Exercise
It’s absolutely imperative for our bodies to move. Movement has important benefits for our health:
Movement decompresses the spine and lengthens the space between bones, improving flexibility
Movement reduces stress hormones that can harm nerves and helps to relieve any pressure on them, boosting the function of the nervous system
Movement helps to oxygenate and increase blood flow to the brain and the body
Movement alleviates and prevents arthritic joint decay
One effect of poor posture is that you can lose your muscle tone. It happens especially as you age. So stand up, walk, run, dance! Do any and all kinds of movements you can. There are exercises that you can do to strengthen your body and improve your posture, too. Adding simple, small exercises to your daily routine can help to reverse the effect of aging and improve your muscle tone.
Over the next few days, We’ll teach you some of these specific movements. Start small. At first it won’t seem hard to do these exercises, but don’t perform too many repetitions and make yourself sore. That’s counter-productive. Our work here is about being able to do the exercises over the long term, not “no pain, no gain.”
Ok, your timer is going off every 20 minutes (or what you’ve found works for you) to take a break from sitting, so let’s add in an exercise. During at least one of your breaks, do this exercise I call YWTL. You can remember the steps with the phrase “You Want To Live.”
Stand up straight, knees slightly bent.
Put your arms up over your head and make a Y.
Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for a few seconds.
Bring the elbows down into a W and squeeze your shoulder blades together again for a few seconds.
Extend the arms out into a T, and same thing: Squeeze those shoulder blades!
Finally, bend the arms down into two L shapes and squeeze your shoulder blades together for a few more seconds.
As you’re doing this, remember: this exercise is not about forcing your arms towards your back, it’s about squeezing the shoulder blades together.
Day 14: Add to the Break: Wall Angels
How are you feeling?
One of the reasons that we’re working so hard on posture is because we’re trying to prevent some of those common pain symptoms that come with poor spinal health and that really build up over time. One of these excruciating symptoms is headaches.
Believe it or not, in the United States, the treatment of headaches cost as much as $17 billion per year. These costs stem from doctors’ appointments, emergency room visits, laboratory and diagnostic services, medications, and managing the side effects of treatments. There are also indirect costs with the loss of productivity in the workplace.
Headaches can be caused by a variety of things, not just posture issues. But in its role as your body’s information superhighway, your spine is an important factor to consider when trying to diagnose the root of the problem. Trouble with your cervical spine, i.e. the vertebrae of your neck, can be the ultimate cause of painful headaches and migraines. Not only that, but cervical problems can lead to a whole host of issues including nervousness, dizziness, anxiety, insomnia, allergies, head colds, and more.
Our second set of movements is an exercise called Wall Angels. This one targets the small muscles located in your shoulders. Strengthening those muscles will help keep your shoulders back and down and avert the dreaded “old lady hunch.” You know the look, right? Strong shoulder muscles will help prevent those severely curved shoulders, but you can’t just focus on the big trapezius and deltoid muscles. For maximum effect, you need to think about those little muscles, too!
Do this exercise in the morning and at night.
Before you start, warm up your chest muscles. You can do this by stretching in a doorway - make a football goal post with your arms and put your forearms against the door jam. Now take a small step forward with one foot. Feel the stretch in your chest? Alternatively, you can clasp your hands behind your back, stretching your arms upwards.
Now, stand against a wall, with the back of your head, your shoulder blades, and your bottom touching it. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and your heels should be about 6 inches out from the wall.
Bring your arms straight out to the side, like the “T” in yesterday’s YWTL exercise.
Bend your elbows to make a 90° angle, again, like you’re making a football goal post.
Press your elbows and hands back into the wall and slowly move your elbows up and down for one minute.
The goal is to repeat this exercise 3 times, with a short break between each repetition. Remember to give yourself time to work up to that goal, if needed! The improvement of your health is a marathon, not a sprint.
Watch this video (1 min 53 sec) for an example of the exercise.
Day 15: Add to the Break: Squats
We talked yesterday about the cost of headaches, both financially and physically. So many of us suffer from headaches that could be helped and relieved by correcting poor posture.
Another symptom of poor posture that many of us experience is bad digestion. Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects 10 - 15% of the US population and while IBS and other digestive problems have a lot of possible causes, posture does have an impact on healthy digestion and may be the culprit.
Just as sitting with poor posture squeezes the area in which your lungs operate and leads to more shallow breathing, it also squeezes all of your digestive organs together, making them work harder to process food, especially when that food is already difficult to digest anyway (I’m looking at you, chili cheeseburger!). This added stress and strain on your digestive system contributes to all kinds of gastrointestinal problems.
Poor posture can cause disruptions in the lumbar spine which lead to gallbladder issues, liver problems, indigestion, heartburn, and ulcers. Dysfunction in the sacrum can cause bladder troubles, cramps, and difficult urination.
Proper posture gives your vital organs the space they need to do their work which can, in turn, improve your health.
Let’s add another exercise to your regular break. Squats are a great exercise for strengthening your legs and building core strength. They can help improve your posture by making it less difficult to stay upright.
Remember the YWTL exercise from Day 13? Today, add 5 squats to the end of your YWTL exercises. As you squat, sit your bottom back, like you’re sitting down in a chair. Keep your knees over your ankles instead of sliding forward over your toes. Keep your torso as upright and straight as possible instead of having it collapse as you squat.
For an advanced squat, add Wall Angels, and keep your focus on using your quadriceps (the muscles on the top of your thighs), not your hamstrings (back of the thighs) or gluteal muscles (the muscles in your bottom).
When you are ready for an even more advanced exercise, try The Founder (1 min 54 sec).
Part #3 of our Posture series coming soon!
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