June 2, 2014 in Features, Health

Don’t let your posture belie your age

Wina Sturgeon McClatchy Tribune
 

Bending at the waist can add decades to your appearance. You can end up looking a lot older than you are.

In fact, a posture of carrying the torso bent forward almost defines the look of an old person. It may not be the easiest thing in the world to get back into the straight-backed posture of youth, but it can be done.

Before getting into the details however, here are a few things to think about:

1. Your muscles may have already adapted to the bent-over posture, so it may take effort and constant awareness to retrain them.

2. The posture may be caused by collapsing of some of the spinal vertebrae, which often occurs painlessly as we age. That will require you to strengthen the muscles around the spine to keep the back in an upright position. A physical therapist can help you learn the right exercises.

3. Getting rid of the “old folks” posture is something that must become second nature, because you’ll have to work on it for the rest of your life.

Now for the muscles you’ll need to work on to obtain and keep your upright goal.

Two thick columns of muscle, one on each side of the spine, are the most important when it comes to retaining or regaining your youthful upright position. These are the spinal erectors, whose job is, not so surprisingly, keeping the spine erect.

By making the spinal erectors strong, you’ll be able to hold your back straight more easily. Your age doesn’t matter; people have been able to regain muscle tone even in their 80s and 90s. Just remember, the more out of shape you are, the slower the pace must be at the beginning. Always get advice from medical professionals and physical therapists, just to stay safe.

Here’s one urgent thing to never forget: you never, never bend at the waist. Ever. Bending at the waist means the entire weight of the head and torso is supported by one or two spinal vertebrae – and something will definitely give. All bending, whether forward, sideways or even backwards, should be done from the hips. That way, your whole spine is supported by the fleshiest part of the spinal erectors and the glute muscles.

Of course, muscles may not be able to do all the work of supporting your torso. You’ll need to get tested to find out if your slumped spine is caused by osteoporosis, or if calcium supplements may be necessary. You may even need to wear garments that offer back support to help keep your torso upright.

But there are more than cosmetic reasons for working at staying upright. The bent-over posture cramps your lungs, often making it hard to draw full, deep breaths. That of course limits your oxygen intake, which by itself can be a factor in making you age faster.

Remember that age isn’t just about the way you look. You want your respiratory system to stay youthful, along with your blood vessels and inner structures as well. Being able to breathe deeply is part of sustaining inner youthfulness.

In fact, “stand up straight” may just be code for stand up younger. Because that’s exactly what staying upright means.

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