Stand up straight, like your mother told you. Bad posture is a cause of multiple musculoskeletal problems. Here’s what you can do:
Start with your eyes. Look around you. Notice how many people are looking down. Then, look at their shoulders and backs. They are curled forward, aging prematurely. Start your new image of yourself by looking forward — directly into people’s eyes, at the horizon, at the world around and above you. We all spend too much time contemplating our navels, literally and figuratively. It’s time to really notice the world around us.
Next, lift up your chin. It is not enough to just raise your eyes. Lead with your chin, and notice what it does to your neck. The curve shifts; the weight of your skull, holding your massive brain, now centers over your spine. Your blood flow and cerebral spinal fluid have smoother tracks in and out of your mental computer. This diminishes overheating and burn out and oxygenates the neuronal cells that transmit your prodigious thoughts.
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Set your shoulders behind your hips. Curled forward while your fingers tap your phone and computer keypad, your shoulders become stuck in the closed position. The scapulars on your back ride forward and out and the muscles that guide them, weakening from that biomechanically disadvantageous position. Rolled forward, your rotator cuffs — the four tendons that guide your shoulder motion — get impinged on the bone of the acrimon. This causes pain when you try to lift your arm above your head.
As your shoulders roll back, suck in your abdomen. Stuck out over your belt, your abdominal muscles and the fat that covers them are dead weight, pulling on your spine. Try holding a glass of water out in front of you, and notice how hard this is to do even for a few minutes. Without the benefit of muscle contraction and abdominal strength, your back is holding up your stomach like that all day.
With your abdomen tucked in, take a deep breath. Imagine that your lungs have three compartments to fill with each breath. First, fill the space at the bottom what feels like your belly button. Next, fill your chest area. Lastly, fill the area above your clavicles. Notice your shoulders rolling back, your lungs lifting, and your stomach sucking in. Now, view the world.
Roll your hips forward as your shoulders square back. It’s not just soldiers who can stand erect, looking proud — you can, too. Walk squarely into the world. Sit down squarely at your desk, keeping your erect posture. Your mother would be proud, and your joints won’t ache so much.
All of this takes practice and discipline. Set your phone, computer, Alexa and Siri to remind you to do these simple exercises regularly. You age yourself artificially by curling up — the overload on all of your joints and on the disks in your spine, caused by poor posture, leads to arthritis. And weakening your abdominal muscles sets you up for back pain. The image of you as bent over and decrepit does you no good.
So, stand up. Inhale. Look around. And don’t forget to smile.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.