Aging Gracefully Blog

Posts Tagged ‘posture’

Exercise for the End of Summer

Friday, August 20th, 2010

I'll be spending the next two weeks in Cleveland with my mother, and I have great plans for both of us in terms of exercise.  My mother is 92 and I'm eager to work with her on upper body strength and flexibility.  As for me, I look forward to getting into a regular running routine.

We share breakfast at a table by a window with a panoramic view of the Cleveland Museum of Art and Lake Erie in the distance.  Sitting opposite each other, I'm able to take her through exercises for her arms and shoulders using light weights.  Upper body strength is so important in getting through the day with ease, and we've all had moments when we realize we could be doing better.  My mother mentioned recently that she wasn't able to organize her closet because she was having difficulty lifting some of the boxes in it.  She hasn't been doing her weights lately, so it's definitely time to get back on the program. 

Stretching is also important for my mother because she has become a little stooped with age and from relying on a walker for stability.  So after the weight training, we do a series of stretches that she loves.  It feels so good to sit up tall, stretch the sides of the torso and lift the chest, arching the upper back gently.  Then we do some specific stretches for the muscles of the arms and shoulders that we worked with weights.  By the time we're done, Mom is absolutely beaming.

For myself, I put on my running shoes and in less than five minutes I'm jogging around the lagoon in front of the art museum.  I do four laps, incorporating some stairs along the way.  Afterwards I do a full body stretch in the park outside my mother's building and in less than a half hour I'm done.  It's a great way to fit in a daily run, which is difficult in my normal work schedule. 

We both start the day feeling virtuous and smiling!

Enjoy the last of summer and I'll be back on the blog after Labor Day.

S.U.S.= Secret Code for Posture

Monday, August 16th, 2010

When I was growing up, my mother and I shared a secret code for posture.  S.U.S. meant "Stand Up Straight" and I seemed to need constant reminders.  I still think a lot about posture.

Last week, I mentioned that the back extension is an easy exercise to help you straighten up.  I described a version of it that you can do seated or standing, which is very handy when you're working at a desk or bending over baby strollers all day long.

However, the prone back extension or "Press Up" is even more effective for strengthening the spine since you perform it while lying face down on the floor.  The reason for this is that when your back is parallel to the floor, the force of gravity exerts more direct resistance on the spinal muscles.  They have to work harder to extend or lift the spine and that makes them stronger.

Elongating the spine before you lift up is the trick to executing this movement successfully.  Lengthening the torso will reduce the risk of compression in the low back.  You should be pain- free before you try the exercise, and you should proceed cautiously to avoid creating any strain.  The only sensation you should feel is the muscles of the low back tightening as they work.

1)  To begin, lie face down on the floor with a folded towel under your forehead to ensure proper alignment of the head and neck with the spine.  Bend your arms and rest your forearms on the floor, palms down.  Contract your abdominals to support the low back.

2)  Lengthen the spine by reaching forward with the top of the head.  Draw your shoulder blades down and together.  Exhale as you lift your head and shoulders off the floor, without using any strength from your arms.  Keep your nose down. Pause at the top, then inhale and slowly return to the start position without resting.  Repeat 10 times.  Try to build up to two sets of 10.

Remember:  S.U.S!!

Straighten Up with 3 Simple Exercises for Posture

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

I've been very conscious of posture lately, mainly because I see so many people who could improve theirs.  A combination of tight muscles, stiff joints and lack of awareness takes a toll on posture and adds years to one's appearance.  When a dancer friend of mine was complimented on his posture, he said, "It's not by accident.  I work on it all the time."

Personally, I've also worked on improving my posture over the years.  You have to ingrain good habits while the musculoskeletal system (your muscles and bones) can respond to the training.  Over time, the elasticity of tendons, ligaments and joints decreases, making it harder to change established patterns.  The spine is one of the areas most vulnerable to osteoporosis. If the vertebral bones weaken and fracture, it can cause a permanent kyphosis or rounding of the mid-back.

Some small movements remind me to straighten up as I go about each day.  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 tall.

To strengthen the muscles of the mid back, do "Ws":  Hold your arms out to your sides with the elbows bent to form a "W".  Inhale, then squeeze the shoulder blades down and together as you slowly let your breath out.  Repeat 10 times daily.  Retraining comes through repetition.

Do a back extension to strengthen the muscles that run the length of your spine so you stand taller and straighter.  The movement of arching backward also improves mobility in the upper and middle back.  Standing or sitting, place your hands on your buttocks below your waist. Take a deep breath and lengthen the torso.  Exhale and lift the chest up as you pull your elbows toward each other, causing the upper back to arch slightly.  Release back to center and repeat 5-10 times.

You can easily do these exercises any time, any where.  They're perfect to do while working at a desk.  Do them often, whenever you think of them and always remember to keep a mental image of yourself standing tall.

Next week I'll share one of my favorite floor exercises for posture.

S-T-R-E-T-C-H it Out!

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

For most of my young life, I felt I was too tall – too tall for boys, too tall for heels, too tall to ever be called cute.  I was always in the back row of class photos and could never be inconspicuous. My posture suffered as I tried in vain to shrink down and blend in, which of course only made me more conspicuous.  A pronounced slump is clearly not attractive!

When my self-image finally "grew" into my height, I straightened up to claim my full 5'10 ½ inches.  Now at the age when loss of height can be an issue, I am conscious of maintaining my height and look forward to being measured at my annual physical.  While there is nothing we can do to stop the aging process, there are a number of things we can do to stay tall, including working on posture and alignment, ensuring the health of our skeleton, and of course, stretching out our muscles.

Stretching is one third of a well-rounded workout (the other two being aerobic exercise and strength training).  After you've been contracting the muscles repeatedly in your aerobic workout – walking, running, cycling, swimming, etc. – it's important to lengthen them out by stretching.  The same principle applies to strength training:  after the muscles have been contracting against resistance, they need to be stretched out to their full length.  Short, bunchy muscles will never give you a long, lean line.

Your workout is not over until after you've finished stretching!  I always allow five or ten minutes after my run to do a full-body stretch.  Although running primarily involves the legs, the upper body and core are also integral to the movement.  I perform the stretches as part of my cool-down in the park or outside my building, knowing that if I come back inside I may get distracted and skip them.

It's advisable to stretch every day, even on days you don't exercise.  Take a lesson from your pet dog or cat and notice that they stretch periodically throughout the day.  You can move your joints to help wake up in the morning and get your circulation going.  Or take a few minutes in the evening in order to counteract the demands of your daily activities and discharge tension from the muscles. 

And definitely make it a point to conclude every workout with appropriate stretches for the muscles you used.  Lengthening the muscles will help keep you tall and straight.  Being flexible makes you agile and keeps your movements fluid and youthful.