"Stand up straight!" "Don't slouch!" "Sit up tall!" These were words many of us heard while growing up. Many people who now work or attend school remotely could benefit from heeding those words. Activities that confine us to our homes — including work and school as well as leisure activities and socializing — can take their toll in the form of achy necks, tight hips and flabby abs. It can even cause conditions called upper cross syndrome and lower cross syndrome. By renewing your focus on moving in ways that are better for your body, it’s possible to avoid cross syndromes and similar issues.
Inactivity and poor posture are breeding grounds for cross syndrome, which develops when muscles in one part of the body become overstretched and weak while muscles in the opposing part become overworked, short and tight.
In both cases, the goal is to stretch the short, tight muscles while strengthening the weak ones. Moving frequently during the day also helps promote blood flow to the muscles and lubricates the joints. If you are working from home or planning to do so more often than you used to, invest in an ergonomic work setup that includes a desk of a suitable height and a supportive desk chair. Try setting up your computer so your monitor is straight in front of you, so you don't have to look down at it. (The top of your monitor should be even with your eyes.)
When you hear the word "core," you may think of strong abdominal muscles. But your core is so much more than that. It includes your arms, legs and head, all moving together over a strong base that includes the muscles in your back, abdomen and pelvic floor, as well as one of the least appreciated muscles: your diaphragm. This large muscle in your midsection extends from the front to the back of your body. In addition to being a critical moving part during respiration, it is an important stabilizer for your body when you are exercising.
Ideally, you want to move as much as possible in a neutral position while maintaining a strong core. This means your head is over your shoulders, which are over your hips, which are over your knees and ankles, with no part of your body too far forward or back. While abdominal strengthening exercises such as Pilates can build a strong core, strengthening the other parts of your body is just as important to achieve and maintain balance.
When you are squatting or lifting, think about your body's alignment. While squatting, avoid letting your knees extend too far forward; you should still be able to see your toes when you look down. When squatting to lift, get as close to the object as you can, pull it close to your body and use your glutes and hips to drive your body upward, rather than lifting with your arms or back. A strong core will make this task easier.
There is no one good posture that is perfect for any length of time and for every body. The best thing to do is to keep moving. Here are some ways to do that:
It's also possible to achieve a neutral position when you sleep.
If you have problems with joint discomfort, speak with your doctor or an occupational or physical therapist regarding splints and braces that can provide support and relieve the stress on cranky wrists, knees or ankles.
In addition to cardio and strength workouts, flexibility is a critical component of any good exercise routine — but many people overlook it. Stretching relaxes those tight muscles that have become shortened as a result of upper or lower cross syndrome.
Dynamic stretching, such as leg swings and arm circles, are a good way to gently stretch the muscles and improve blood flow before you start exercising. After your workout, static stretching helps you cool down and stretch the muscle while it is warm after all the exercise you've done. Hold each stretch for at least 20 to 30 seconds; it's longer than most people think, but necessary to obtain the most benefit from the stretch. Learn about static and dynamic stretches.
You can incorporate various devices into your stretching routine to achieve different results and change up your game a bit:
Be careful not to overdo it, though. A good stretch should give you a strong sensation but should not cause the kind of pain that makes you say "ouch!"
Yoga, t'ai chi and Pilates provide various types of stretching. There are even "stretch labs" — places you can go to have a certified trained professional work with you to devise a customized stretching program, with assisted stretching provided at their location.
Your body will tell you when you're moving more effectively and comfortably, so listen carefully. Ask yourself these questions to assess your progress:
These are some excellent ways to increase your awareness of moving with purpose. With practice and commitment, you can get there.
This article is from the Health Connection: Movement is Medicine issue and brought to you by Community Education & Outreach.