Aging Gracefully Blog

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Dangerous Curves: Simple Steps to Reverse the Forward Slouch

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

Your posture speaks louder than words!  “A slouching posture tends to suggest a certain laziness of character…whereas an upright posture can confirm a sense of self-possession,” according to Count Rostov in A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

As you sit reading this, what is the shape of your spine?  Are you hunched over your computer, leaning on your desk or slumped back in a chair?  Daily postures can sabotage proper spinal alignment, but a few easy moves help reinforce the natural curves of the spine, improving both your normal posture and your form in weight training exercises. 

In neutral alignment four natural curves create a functional balance:  

  • two slight inward curves of the neck and low back
  • two slight outward curves of the mid-back and sacrum

They help counteract the constant force of gravity on the body, ensure that your joints work efficiently and enhance your body mechanics in all positions – sitting, standing and moving.

However, when any of these curves becomes exaggerated it can cause strain in the joints, ultimately leading to headaches, neck and shoulder problems, sciatica, and hip and knee pain. When overloaded with weights, this can cause worse problems.

Good and poor posture are both habits that develop from repeated movement patterns. To re-train your spinal curves, get in the habit of doing these four simple exercises. You can even do them sitting at your desk.  Repeat each move 5-10 times daily. 

Lengthen the spine:  To restore and maintain the normal curves of the spine, try this "growing exercise."  Take a deep breath, filling the belly with air, and gradually lengthen the spine as you lift the top of your head to the ceiling. Think of elongating through the torso, stretching the space between the ribs and the hips, decompressing the spine. Fluff up the chest by drawing the air up into the chest cavity. As you exhale, hold the height and stay ta

Realign the head:  It is common to develop a forward head position from our daily activities.  The "neck press" strengthens the muscles of the neck and upper back and realigns the head over the shoulders.  Put two fingers on your chin.  Inhale, then as you exhale use your fingers as a cue to retract your chin, i.e. move it straight back, pressing the curve out of the back of your neck. Keep your chin level being careful not to push it down. Release and repeat

Anchor the shoulder blades:  When you're in the habit of slouching, your shoulder blades slide forward and apart exaggerating the curve of the mid-back.  "W's" activate the muscles that stabilize your shoulder blades, an extremely important technique to use when doing upper body weight training. Hold your arms out to the sides, palms forward, with the elbows bent and in line with the shoulders. To form a "W", inhale, then squeeze the shoulder blades down and together as you let your breath out slowly. Hold for 2-3 seconds and repeat.

Align the pelvis:  The position of the pelvis determines the degree of curve in the lumbar spine.  Neutral spine alignment is midway between a full arch and a flat back position. Explore your personal range of motion by tilting your pelvis forward and back. Return to a neutral position, allowing the slight curve in the low back area -just enough to slip your hand in if you are lying on your back or standing straight with your back against the wall. Tighten your abdominals to hold this position

Improving posture requires a conscious effort and begins with developing the mental awareness of how to hold the natural curves of the spine.  As a result, you will not only avoid pain and strain, but you’ll also project a proud, confident personality, or in Count Rostov’s words “confirm a sense of self-possession.”

Video: Two Easy Exercises to Align the Spine

(c) Copyright - Joan L. Pagano. All Rights Reserved Worldwide




Can You Tone Up without Exercise?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

Salma Hayek recently claimed in People magazine that she stays toned and taut simply by "holding the body in a way that activates muscles all day.” Can you actually tone your belly and other trouble spots without working out or going to the gym? If you have an active lifestyle, can you really skip regular exercise and still be healthy and fit?

It is true that you can stay toned if you’re already somewhat in shape and know how to use your muscles. The key is consciously activating them in your daily activities to flatten the belly and engage the core, stabilize the shoulder blades, contract your glutes to squat and your biceps to lift and carry.  You can achieve a level of toning by contracting your muscles at a low level of intensity. If you’re concerned about maintaining a toned belly, this is something you can do every day. Click here for the free bonus video "The Anytime Move to Flatten Your Belly." You'll also improve your posture, alignment and body mechanics.

Here's how:

  • To engage your core and flatten your belly, "zip up" your abs as if you were zipping up a tight pair of jeans. Pull your navel in toward your spine and then up, lifting the pelvic floor. (Download free video demonstrating the move here). 
  • Stand up straight, rolling the shoulders down and back.  Hold them there by engaging the muscles between the shoulder blades to anchor them and prevent a "forward slouch."
  • Sit without support, using your core muscles to keep your spine tall, ribs stacked over the hips.
  • When you bend and lift, use the large muscles of your legs – the glutes, quads and hamstrings – to squat down, keeping your back straight.
  • When you are leaning forward, practice the "hip hinge," bending forward from the hips and not the waist.  Keep your spine straight instead of rounding the upper back.
  • Get up from any seated position without using your arms for support.
  • When you brush your teeth, stand on one leg for balance and feel the muscles of that leg working to support you, especially in the ankles.  Do both legs or focus on the weaker one.

When it comes to your overall fitness, using these simple techniques can help maintain muscle tone.  Just remember that in terms of health benefits, you are not building muscle strength or bone density, nor are you conditioning your cardiovascular system.  And we all know how important that is. You may be very active during long work days, but if you are not elevating your heart rate and breathing levels it still won’t improve the function of your heart and lungs. Cardio activity aids in reducing your risk of disease and adds energy, stamina and years to your life.  Plus, it burns a lot of calories!

What else can you do if you have little to no time?  At the very least, simple body weight exercises like squats, push-ups and planks will develop muscular fitness. For cardio, try adding 10-15 minutes of fast walking or stair climbing at different points during the day, and you’ll easily accumulate at least 30 minutes most days of the week.

P.S. If you’re looking for more expert advice on the best ways to deal with belly fat and bloating, check out this 2-minute trailer for my brand new video program on how to “Beat Belly Fat, Bloating, Bone Loss and the Blues.”

Order your video today and start beating belly fat now.

This easy-to-follow video of six handy modules is packed with real-life fitness and food tips to help you lose inches, tighten muscles, keep your bones strong, enhance your mood and manage your stress.


Success Stories: Take Your Exercise in Doses

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Awesome news from Dr. A! ( We've been working together for a couple of weeks now, and last week he surpassed his goal of burning 250 calories every day by picking up extra doses of exercise during the course of each day.
He began the week by adding an extra session on the bike.
At mid-week he built in 20 minutes of walking with his biking workouts.
On the last day of the week he logged in 4 workouts totaling 70 minutes of biking and a 1000 calorie expenditure.  Wow!

Studies show that exercise accumulated in short bouts offers weight loss and aerobic fitness benefits comparable to those achieved in longer sessions.

Use this tip yourself:  Don't let an "all or nothing" mentality of exercise sabotage your fitness regimen!  Instead of skipping a workout because you don't have time to do the full routine, get creative about incorporating bouts of exercise into your day.

Success Stories: Go for the Burn (Calories, that is!)

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

One of my goals this year is to post regular success stories about my clients and friends who are winning at the game of fitness and offer a great example to others.

I just started working with Dr. Alvin Jones, a radio show host in the Washington, DC area.  After he interviewed me for his show he asked whether I could help him achieve his own long term health and fitness goals.  Over the course of this year, he'd like to drop at least 50 pounds and shape up.

Listen to the interview from January 19th - WNEW-AM Washington DC, Dr Alvin Jones
(12:44 mp3 file opens in a new window)

In the first week, Dr. A met and surpassed his exercise goal of biking to burn 250 calories most, at least 5, days of the week.  He had a perfect score of 7 workouts and discovered an inside tip:  If he works out at a higher level of intensity, he can burn the same number of calories in 20 minutes as he can in 35 minutes at a lower level.

Use this tip yourself:  add intervals of higher intensity cardio activity to burn more calories in less time.

Joan featured in “Unlock and Conquer” on CoolMomsOnly

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Nancy Root posts: Leading the way in the feature article CoolMomsOnly panel expert, Joan Pagano gives us some inside tips on getting those flat belly abs! No matter your age, it is never too late. This is a proven strategy.  My husband and I have plans to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary in February of 2012 on a tropical island.  I hope to unlock my dedication and conquer! Flat belly abs here I come!

Dynamic Living Magazine: Tips to Stay Fit during those Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

One of my dear friends has been nicknamed “Major Project” because he worries about falling out of shape and having a major project of starting over again.  Another friend is faithful to her fitness training no matter what because of the “fear factor” – she’s afraid of having to relive the indoctrination into muscle training, which can be accompanied by some discomfort as the muscles come alive.  Summer may be a time to down shift your usual fitness training program and enjoy some different leisure time pursuits. However, it doesn't take much to maintain your strength and fitness levels. Small doses of exercise done consistently over time can do the job of maintenance.  For my suggestions and practical tips click here.