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Tips to have a healthy posture

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Why Posture Matters

Do you cringe when you see older women permanently hunched over, unable to stand straight no matter how hard they try? Do think that hunched over posture could never happen to you? Think again. Your posture is integral in your physical and mental wellbeing and, unless you work on it, your posture health will suffer and you just may end up with permanently poor posture. Margaret Richard, author of Body Electric and fitness guru for the PBS program Body Electric shares her tips to perfect your posture.

Woman with Good PostureA healthy posture requires training your body to stand, walk, sit, and lie in positions that put the least amount of strain on supportive muscles and ligaments. Your backbone is composed of 33 vertically stacked bones, called vertebrae, that are cushioned by discs. You may think those disks and spinal fluid would be enough to protect your spinal cord and nerves. However, it is your posture that best protects your spine and the rest of your body from injury.

Checklist for Improved Posture


Suck and Tuck

Richard's recommends that you frequently make sure you suck and tuck to keep a check on your posture. "I visualize a neutral, fairly straight but not rigid, line from my head to my tailbone and perform a head-to-toe posture inventory," adds Richard.

This means chin up, neck long, shoulders down, chest lifted, abs and glutes tight, and knees relaxed.

Head straight up, chin in, ears over shoulders

Richard says, "If your head and neck project forward, your back automatically goes out of alignment." Your goal is to make sure your head is over your neck so that you can look directly ahead without feeling tension in your neck.

"Another great side benefit of keeping your head up and your ears, shoulders, and hips aligned is that you appear more confident, which provides a boost to your ego," explains Richard. She knows the importance of posture from experience. "After many years of looking down, I had to retrain myself to stand tall and bring my ears in line with my shoulders."

Shoulders Down

According to Richard, pressing your shoulders down provides a stabilizing anchor for your entire body. In addition the primary cause of most shoulder pain is due to tension in the muscles that elevate your shoulders and support your back.

"I've noticed that the shoulders lift at the first sign of fatigue during exercise," says Richard. And this is common even when you aren't working out. When you are tired at any time of the day, you likely raise your shoulders.

To relax your shoulders, Richard suggests stretching your head and ear toward each of your shoulders and then, with your head up straight, rotate or shrug your shoulders to ease stiff muscles. When your muscles are at ease, it will be easier for you pull your shoulders down and keep your head proudly lifted.

Chest lifted or DYOBL (do your own breast lift)

Standing without hunching your shoulders or slouching will give you a younger, more energetic and attractive appearance. Lifting your chest while standing tall is equivalent of giving yourself a do it yourself breast lift. And what woman doesn't want that!

Tighten up your abs and glutes

"When you're standing straight, make sure your abs and glutes are gently contracted," recommends Richard. This helps to keep a neutral spine or the natural position of the spine when all body parts are in correct alignment.

According to Richard, the most common muscle imbalance leading to back pain is due to weak ab muscles and an excess of belly fat that causes the abdomen to protrude. Exercise will not only help eliminate the belly fat but it can also assist in correcting muscle imbalances and strengthen your core.

Knees relaxed

If you relax your knees, as opposed to keeping them locked or hyperextended, you will alleviate tension in your back by accommodating the natural curves of your spine.

"Next time you are standing in line at the grocery store and you feel tightness in your lower back, try flexing (bending) your knees while simultaneously tightening the muscles of your abdomen and gluteus to bring your pelvis into a more neutral position," suggests Richard.

Stand with your feet slightly apart

Good foot posture helps to put your whole body in balance. Place your feet slightly apart, knees unlocked and just slightly bent, and lift your arches so that your body weight is supported by the outside edges of your soles. And when you stand or walk, your toes should point almost straight ahead.

Richard also highly recommends that you find properly fitting shoes that conform to the natural shape of your feet and, if necessary, get fitted for orthotics (specially made shoe inserts) by a podiatrist or other orthotic specialist.

Start today on keeping your healthy posture in check and reduce your risk for muscle strains and back injuries. Keep this checklist handy and practice it daily. Not only will you feel better, you will look better.

For more information on back health and back-strengthening exercises, visit these links:

The truth about back pain

Five exercises for a sexy, beautiful back

Tighten your tummy with these three exercises

Strengthen your core muscles

Three exercises for gloriously toned glutes
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