Writing this column each week comes with the challenge of finding interesting and relevant content, which is not easy. Since the spectrum of all things health related is very vast, it does not usually take me long to find an important aspect of health to cover. Good posture or the lack of good posture is one of those topics that should be important to all of us. With so many of us working long hours in an office or clinical environment, that lends ourselves to chronic poor postural habits. I think it is pretty important to understand the impact posture has on your health.
In recent years, a number of studies have put the spotlight on poor posture. What these studies have found is a much broader range of health related issues, both physically and mentally, that tie back to postural imbalances. You may find it surprising that poor posture has links to depression, stress, digestion problems and even daily fatigue. When you add these new findings to the already well understood, neck, back and lower back pain caused by poor posture, it’s pretty clear posture is something we should take very seriously. I guess our moms were onto something when they told us to stand straight and quit slouching.
Today more than ever we are impacted by postural imbalances, primarily due to working conditions and sedentary lifestyles. Poor posture has become so invasive that a large part of chiropractic and physical therapy care devote a significant amount of time helping people recover from issues caused by postural imbalances.
Here are just a few not as well understood consequences of chronic poor posture:
1. Poor posture impacts your flexibility. You lose dynamic range in muscle and joint movements from chronic postural imbalances. When your flexibility and range of motion become limited due to sitting long hours in poor postural positions, the nerves in our neck, upper back, torso and down through our lower back can become impinged. This impingement can lead to headaches, increased spinal problems and general discomfort.
2. Digestive slowdowns and sluggish gut can cause daily discomfort and add to symptoms of other digestive disorders. Poor posture in the form of hunching over or sitting in a slouching position can cause constipation. In other words, poor posture can place pressure on your digestive tract, causing intestinal restriction.
3. Circulation issues spike when you have chronic postural imbalances over time. Whether you are sitting or standing with poor posture, it impacts your circulatory system and nervous system. Better posture and more movement will allow for better blood-flow as well as open up your nervous system for better brain to body connections. Since postural imbalances weaken both nervous system and circulation, it can increase inflammation, joint pain, arthritic symptoms and complicate diabetic issues.
4. Poor posture adds to fatigue. Compromised body alignment and loss of postural integrity leads to a loss of muscle strength, flexibility and joint motion. This coupled with the added pressure that usually accompanies postural imbalances around anterior neck muscles, cervical and upper thoracic area of your spine leads to an exaggerated sense of fatigue, stiffness and headaches.
5. The same chronic postural imbalances that lead to fatigue also add to your overall stress levels. Studies have shown people who had good posture and made an effort to maintain their posture on a daily basis experienced less stress. It was found that people with good posture practices had a 25 percent lower stress hormone cortisol than those with poor posture. Poor posture also factored into stress promoting poor self-esteem, low self-confidence and higher levels of depression.
6. Poor posture complicates and becomes an aggravating factor for pre-existing conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, disk degeneration and even diabetes. For many of these conditions, the worst thing you can do is stress your body with limited flexibility, poor circulation and nerve impingement. These are critical areas you need working well to heal and ease tough medical conditions.
The simple answer to achieve good posture is being aware of your body’s alignment when both sitting and standing. It is also a good idea to look at sleeping positions and how you lay on couches, floors or in bed. The main key component to help you manage your posture is flexibility training.
Flexibility training can decrease and even offset neck, low back pain, joint pain and muscle soreness. When you maintain good flexibility levels you will have normalized range of motion, less muscle tightness pulling on connective tissues, the spine and skeletal alignment. For this very reason, flexibility training can be a great first step to bringing your posture into a balanced state and with a little awareness, it can be pretty easy to maintain a healthy and happy aligned body.
You can find some great flexibility exercise videos online, check with your local gym or hire a certified personal trainer. Another great resource is to check with your health care professional on ways you can get started with better flexibility leading you to better posture.
Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation and certified health coach. For more information, go online to jhanawellness.com.