As a child, you were probably told to stand up straight. That’s still great advice. Standing erect and sitting properly can help reduce stress on joints, ward off muscle pain and improve balance to prevent falls.
You’ll feel the price of poor posture. Painful, achy joints steal your sleep and lead to irritability and fatigue. Hunching or tilting to one side makes you vulnerable to falls. Unbalanced pressure on spinal disks can cause neck, back and shoulder pain. Improper alignment can contribute to musculoskeletal diseases such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, herniated disks and degenerative disk disease.
Today’s older adults are far more active than previous generations—and they have the aches and pains to prove it. In fact, sports injuries like tendonitis and bursitis have become so common among the over-50 set, there’s a name for the condition—boomeritis.
Some injuries result from years of overuse or repetitive movements. Others happen when out-of-shape weekend warriors try to get back in a game as they did when they were younger. You can stay active and pain free and avoid getting sidelined by boomeritis by following these tips from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:
- Gear your workouts to your own fitness level and goals.
- Know your weak link, such as a previously injured joint, and avoid activities that may strain it.
- Mix up your exercise routine for balanced fitness. Include cardiovascular activities (walking or jogging), strength training (lifting weights) and flexibility exercises (stretching or yoga).
- Choose low-impact aerobic activities like biking, swimming or dancing.
- Warm up before exercising.
- Take 1,200 mg of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D daily to maintain bone strength. People over age 70 should aim for 600 IU.
The Aging Body
Physical changes that occur with age and lifestyle habits conspire to allow slouching. With passing birthdays, people typically experience the following:
- Muscles shrink and lose mass. Strength diminishes and reflexes slow.
- Bone loss outpaces bone building. Bones lose density and strength and break more easily.
- Ligaments, which connect bones at joints, lose elasticity. Overall flexibility diminishes.
- Activity decreases. People tend to move less and in more repetitive ways. Some muscles stay strong while others weaken.
The result? Your body loses correct alignment, putting you at risk for musculoskeletal disorders and pain.
Checking Your Position
The way you hold your body—standing and sitting—is key to proper posture. Examine your alignment with these assessments:
- Stand tall. Stand in front of a mirror. Breathe deeply and relax. Is your head straight and are your shoulders and hips level? Do you see equal spaces between your arms and sides? Do your kneecaps face forward and are your ankles straight?
- Sit smart. Position yourself correctly when seated, especially if you use a computer. Use a pillow to support your lower back. Adjust your chair so your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are at a 90-degree angle. The top of your screen should be level with the top of your head.
Maintaining good posture through the years calls for conscious effort. Exercising regularly to keep your muscles strong and flexible and to maintain good balance is key to holding and carrying your body correctly. In addition, practice these exercises from the American Physical Therapy Association and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases to help you improve and maintain correct body alignment:
- Strengthen core muscles. The strength of your core, especially your abdominals, is key to back stability. To strengthen them, lie on your back with your arms at your sides. Using your abdominal muscles to lift your head, neck and shoulder blades off the floor, slowly curl up. Repeat 15 times.
- Boost your balance. Wear sturdy shoes to practice this exercise: Grasp hold of a countertop or the back of a chair. Stand on one leg for one minute; switch legs. As you improve, increase the time, close your eyes or don’t use an object for support.
Seek Treatment for Unresolved Pain
Many people with chronic pain, particularly back pain, can trace their problem to faulty posture. Self-care efforts to improve alignment may not be enough to undo years of slouching and bad habits like carrying an overloaded shoulder bag, but you can keep poor posture from getting progressively worse. See your healthcare provider if you have back pain that is severe, doesn’t improve with rest, is accompanied by numbness and tingling or occurs after a fall or an injury.
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