Thanks to the latest CoVid-19 lockdown, many of us find ourselves either desk bound, couch bound or both it seems these days. There is much discussion lately regarding the adverse effects of lockdown on mental health and physical fitness. However one overlooked concern is the adverse effects of being stationary for long periods. Therefore, in this article, I want to address the issue of bad posture.
Poor posture demands support from fast twitch muscles causing the deeper supporting muscles (slow twitch) to waste away from lack of use. The weaker, unused muscles then tend to tighten, shortening the muscle length which compact the bones of the spine (vertebrae). If not addressed, this further compounds the problem by making the posture worse still!
Sitting for long periods at a desk, slouching on a couch (watching TV perhaps), or constantly looking down at a smarphone, all contribute to poor posture. The affect of such activity (or rather lack of) is to shorten the muscles in the front shoulders and neck due to excessive stooping forward. This will eventually cause back and neck pains, headaches, breathing difficulties, poor sleep cycles and general mobility issues.
These negative effects however, can easily be corrected through both discipline and exercise.
Benefits of good posture
So we have heard the negative side of a bad posture, what about the benefits of a good posture?
Improving your posture helps you to lose weight because it engages the core muscles, resulting in body toning and calorie burning. Equally it aids digestion, thus preventing that constant bloated feeling or stomach problems.
The affect of stress on the back and neck through stooping can also have a surprising affect on your mood. In some cases, this can lead to feelings of depression, particularly when dogged with persistent back pain .
Conversely, Sitting or ‘Standing Tall’ gives the perception of self-confidence, leading to respect from others; here another example of a positive feedback loop.
Ways to improve your posture
Training the Core muscles
As regular gym-goers, we should not underestimate the importance of core workouts – I give a good example of a core routine in a previous post. Strengthening the core not only improves posture, but also improves overall strength and avoids injury. Personally, despite my Weightlifting and Rugby past, I attribute my avoidance of back problems even now to having a good posture and a strong core (besides some luck too, I guess).
A good place to begin is the try to avoid spending long periods in static positions, such as stooping over a desk whist working. Instead, aim to take a break at least once every 30 minutes by standing for 2 minutes. Try standing tall by distributing your weight evenly on each foot, facing forward and lengthening the spine by imagining the crown of your head is being lifted toward the sky.
Standing Tall is a great habit to adopt generally in my opinion. Since the effect of stooping compacts the spine as we get older; being evidenced by height shrinkage in the elderly. Besides, if like me you are, lets say, ‘vertically challenged’, the last thing you need is to get even shorter!
One useful technique relax the shoulder muscles whilst sitting is Scapula squeezes; although these can be performed in a standing position also.
The scapular squeeze requires holding the elbows by your side and squeezing the shoulder blades together, holding for 5-10 seconds then repeating. This not only reduces tension on the upper back and neck but also strengthens the rhomboids and middle trapezius muscles. This is demonstrated nicely in this short youtube video.
Hopefuly you can appreciate that something as seemingly minor as posture can actually have a big effect on your life. Not only does it avoid injury, but can also affect your mood, diet and general wellbeing. Three things we need to be particularly mindful of in these difficult times we find ourselves in.