KAUFMANN: Stand tall for better health

Published 9:38 am Monday, July 8, 2019

The human body is designed to stand up straight. When we stand (and sit) up tall, we breathe and move more easily. Working, walking, carrying groceries — everyday life improves when we start with good posture.

So why do we slouch so much? Gravity, bad habits and tight muscles can all pull our alignment out of whack. When we live “crooked,” our bodies compensate, and our joints can get stressed and injured over time.

What is good posture, anyway? We can think of it as stacking our bones evenly upward against gravity. Whether we sit or stand, we should center our three heaviest body areas one over the other: head, hips and rib cage, all in a line, connected by the spine.

Let’s do a quick posture check, starting from the ground up. First, we place our feet hip width apart and distribute our body weight evenly. Next, with soft knees, we lengthen our spine gently up towards the sky. We can imagine a string starting at the tailbone, stretching up through the spine and pulling up through the top of the head.

To finish, we roll the shoulders back and down and lift our chin level with the earth. Our eyes look forward. We take a few deep breaths. Welcome to good posture! If this feels uncomfortable, we should keep practicing.

The same principles apply to seated posture. Chair height and depth is important: our feet should be flat on the floor, our knees bent, and our hips at the back of the chair.

Working on good posture is worth the effort, because the health benefits are many, and they grow exponentially over time. One major benefit is better breathing. The lungs have more room to expand when our chests are open. Bigger breaths bring in more oxygen, which in turn fuels better body functioning.

Another benefit of practicing proper body alignment is that we minimize stress on our joints, reducing our chances of injury. We can move more smoothly and age more gracefully. Our neck, spine, shoulders and hips will last longer and feel better.

Holding good posture also strengthens our core muscles, and stronger core muscles help us sustain good posture. Our core is more than just “abs”: it also includes our back, pelvic and hip muscles. Classes like Pilates and yoga offer excellent core training, but perhaps the best training of all is practicing good posture, every day!

Here are some easy ways we can correct common postural imbalances:

• Inhale and lift the shoulders up towards the ears; exhale and bring the shoulder blades down and back. Repeat several times.

• Keep the chin level when reading or texting; move the eyes downward, not the neck.

• When sitting for long periods, take breaks every 20-30 minutes to stand up and move around.

Sometimes injuries and muscle tightness keep us “crooked,” no matter how hard we try. Health professionals such as physical therapists and experienced personal trainers can help us “straighten up” and feel better.

With better posture comes increased confidence, as well. Let’s stand tall, southwest Michigan!

Chrissie Kaufmann is a group fitness instructor at the YMCA of Southwest Michigan.