Watch your back
Even slightly bad posture can severely impact on the health of your spinal anatomy. Photo: Glenn Campbell
Without a strong spine to support our bodies, humans are virtually helpless - a fact which many of us don't realise until it is far too late.
So why do so many of us routinely neglect our backs? We sit all day long, and when we do finally stand, we go from train seats to computer chairs to airline seats to couches… and then to bed. And our backs are suffering for it.
It is partly about the long hours we all seem to work these days, but sheer laziness also plays a role for those of us who recover from the working day by flopping on the couch to watch TV or play video games.
"I don't have bad posture" you might retort - but how do you know?
How many of us really have an objective view of what our posture and back health is like? Not many I reckon, because when we look at ourselves in the mirror - our view is front on - not side on.
The truth is that even slightly bad posture can severely impact on the health of your spinal anatomy - which is one of the most complex and important systems of the body.
The experts say there are five types of postures:
Kyphosis – forward head position with rounded shoulders and a rounded upper back;
Lordosis – exaggerated lumbar curve (lower back) with shoulders potentially pulled back too tightly;
Sway back – when your body actually tilts backward;
Forward head posture – head and cervical spine shift forward
Correct posture – shoulders and hips are in alignment, and the ear aligns with the shoulder down to the hip and ankle bone.
Anna-Louise Bouvier, creator of Physiocise exercise program and creator of the Everyday Basics for a Better Back DVD, gave me her top three reasons for maintaining good posture:
1) Because 85 per cent of communication is non-verbal, correct posture makes you look better. Feeling tired and stressed? Your slumped posture will show it. But if you have (or even fake it) a posture of positivity, your brain will follow the body into that mode.
2) Bad posture turns your entire postural system off. When you slump, your shoulder stabilisers fail, your chest and core drops, and so does your bum. If you spend 16-18 hours a day sitting down with your postural system turned off, even strength sessions three times per week won't compensate.
3) The more you sit upright the more room there is for your lungs. You will breathe better as your lungs will have more space to inflate, with the benefit being more oxygen and energy throughout your day.
I'll add a fourth. Bad posture exists because of misalignment. And if the body is misaligned, it is much more susceptible to serious injury - whether you're playing soccer with co-workers or lifting heavy weights at the gym. Correct it soon, or later you're in for a life changing injury.
So what can you do you do to get your body back into the right shape?
- Get a firm understanding of your postural type. Chat with a professional and find out what body type you are;
-Increase core strength. Some lower back issues are due to a weak core. Strengthening the outer and inner core can affect your posterior chain;
-Incorporate back exercises. There are many corrective back exercises…from lower back extensions to deadlifts to lat pull-downs and pull-ups, to bent over rows. But knowing your posture first dictates which of these exercises is the best medicine for your body.
- Want a better looking chest? Whether you're a beefed-up Incredible Hulk or a computer guru with hunched over shoulders, change your workout routine to a 4:1 ratio of back exercises to chest. Your back will strengthen, your shoulder blades will come together, and your chest will rise so you're looking confident, proud, and healthy.
Stand upright. Tuck your core in. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, and watch your chest rise.
But possibly the most important medicine for your back health are the mental changes you can make. I tell my own clients that it's easy to do the back exercises in the gym, but one of the most difficult (and therapeutic) things you can do for your back and posture is correcting it during work, play, and rest.
Consciously correct your posture as you walk, as you stand, and as you sit and over the months your body will change for the better.
How important is posture to you? And what back exercises do you do for your health?