When you imagine an old man, you will often picture them as being short and stopped over. This is what the stereotypical old man looks like to us because it is what we see so often – men who have developed a hunch as they get older and no longer have the tall, masculine posture they sported in their youth.
This is a very aging look then but problems with it go beyond mere aesthetics. Having a bad posture can create all kinds of health complaints by causing everything from maladaptation across your skeletal muscle, to poor sleep, weight gain, chronic pain and much more.
So the question is: what can you do to prevent letting this happen as you get older? Is it an inevitable symptom of age, or are there ways that you can buck the trend?
The title of this post probably gave the answer away already somewhat, so let’s take a closer look at what the best things you can do are if you want to keep yourself standing tall!
The first thing to understand is that sitting – and sitting in an office in particular – can ruin your posture. This is because sitting at a desk causes you to hunch slightly to get your head level with your monitor.
Meanwhile, your arms are forward which turns your shoulders inward and shortens your pecs, making them pull on your back. If you’re reading this on a computer right now, then take a moment to assess your current posture and whether it could be better.
So the simplest thing you can do to make sitting less destructive for your health is to sit less. As soon as you do this, you’ll find that your muscles become less tight and that you are better able to maintain your usual range of motion.
What’s more, is that you should make sure to get up and walk around regularly whenever you go through long periods of sitting. Wearing a fitness watch will do this – most include an alert to tell wearers to get up whenever they’ve been inactive for too long.
Another tip is to try sitting on an ergonomic chair, or on an exercise ball. You can also get cushions that will solve this problem for you and these have the advantage of being easy to take with you – so you can use them on the commute and everywhere else.
There are actually all manner of other gadgets and gizmos you can get as well that will help you to fix your posture, including smart wearables, pillows and more! Check out a few of them here.
A lot of the problem with sitting then, is the way that it shortens various muscles and makes them tighter. This is simply the result of a lack of use – and what’s key to remember here is that the human body was never designed to sit at all! In the wild we didn’t have chairs and so the closest thing we had to sitting was just to squat down on the spot – which notably kept our spines straight.
Unfortunately, in this day and age sitting for some time is practically unavoidable. The key then is to try and undo the damage that does by stretching regularly. Learn some basic yoga exercises and stretch on a daily basis before bed.
Not only will this help you to improve your mobility and prevent the tightness that leads to poor posture but it will also improve your sleep, help you to be more aware of your body and your posture (yoga involves lots of exercises that encourage you to focus on your shoulders and back) and help you tone up and lose weight too!
Here is a quick primer on some yoga fixes for bad posture.
An unfortunate irony of exercise is that a lot of people end up doing more harm than good. If you spend all day in an office sitting down and then hit the gym and work only your ‘mirror muscles’ (the ones that look good in front of a mirror), then you are inviting an injury.
The problem is that most of those muscles – the abs, the biceps, the shoulders, the pecs – are things that pull your body forward and things that are located in your upper body.
If you train your rectus abdominus (six pack) regularly but never work your erector spinae (the muscles found at the base of your spine), then you’ll have a tremendous force being exerted on your body at all times that’s pulling you forward and no counterweight going the other way to pull you back up straight.
Likewise, if you train your pecs hard, then they will pull your shoulders round and forward – and unless you train your lats equally, this can result in a serious hunch.
Then lift a large amount of weight and… crunch!
The trick is not to stop exercising but to exercise correctly. That means looking at functional training methods that will include squats and deadlifts etc. to build your muscles to work together and to be evenly proportioned.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is 69 and yet he still stands up straight and looks incredibly powerful. In a recent Facebook Live Q&A, he explained that his secret was to practice on a regular basis – simply by getting up and standing against a wall with his head and back completely straight.
He described this as simply reminding the body that it is meant to stand up straight and by doing that, he is able to set healthy patterns in place and prevent himself from slouching. This is an incredibly easy thing to do yourself, so why not work it into your routine?
Like all good things, posture takes a little bit of work and training. But the benefits for your health are absolutely worth it, so get to work!