It’s a simple concept that’s often overlooked.
“Feeling good starts with being aware of your body,” said Edgar Lim, a personal trainer and massage therapist in Chicago. “The body gives you signs when it needs something. We have to be in tune with that.”
Sometimes we ignore the signs for the sake of finishing a project at work, taking care of the kids or dealing with some other pressing concern. And we may suffer unnecessarily from, say, a stiff neck or a sore lower back.
“A major thing people don’t realize is your posture can be causing the aches and pains,” Lim said.
According to physics research, we put five times more pressure on our joints when we stand compared to when we lie down. Sitting has been determined to be even more strenuous because it exerts extra force on the lower back when the upper body shifts forward. Bad news for slouchers: Sagging your shoulders while leaning forward can put 10 to 15 times more pressure on your lower back muscles as they work to keep your body upright.
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley School of Public Health have some suggestions. When sitting, keep your shoulders back (comfortably, not yanked back) and center your head over the shoulders; adjust your chair to make your knees slightly higher than your hips; your feet should be flat on the floor or footrest; and, if you must, cross your legs only at the ankles - any higher can throw your pelvic bone out of alignment. For all you guys out there with the faded square mark on a back pocket of your jeans: Sitting on your wallet can press your sciatic nerve and lead to leg pain.
To improve your standing and walking postures, imagine a string is tied to the top of your head and is pulling you straight up in a gentle fashion. This helps you to tuck in the abdomen and align your torso and hips without thrusting back the shoulders in exaggerated and incorrect fashion.
Another cause of bad backs comes during spring when we start working our muscles without warming them up. Many golfers, for example, are guilty of not doing anything before the first tee, said Lim. “It is important to gently stretch the muscles with golf-like motions (to mimic your swing) in the arms, back and legs before playing. You will notice the difference.”
Lim said body awareness is keyed to finding a “midpoint” between too much and too little physical activity. “We all need to seek a balance in our life on the physical, social, mental and spiritual levels,” said Lim. “Stress can make it difficult to accomplish, though not all stress is bad. Sometimes it makes us perform better. We can help ourselves by being aware of what works best for our bodies.”
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