Standing in Line
You may have heard the phrase “military bearing,” that upright posture that service members adopt that sticks with them for a lifetime. As it happens, a soldier standing at attention is practicing the most efficient and least energy wasting posture. If you were to hang a plumb line at the level of the ear canal, its horizontal axis would intersect the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. When standing and moving with optimal posture, you are less likely to lose your balance. However, as people age, they often develop poor postural habits that shift their center of gravity and predispose them to poor balance that can lead to falls and injury. Failure to exercise and remain physically active leads to muscle weakness that exacerbates the problem.
Balance is Basic
Your muscles pull against your bones in antagonism to other muscles to hold your skeleton erect. Think of a camping tent, where tension lines running from the tent corners to stakes in the ground enable the tent to stay upright. If one stake is unearthed, the tent will begin to sag and lean. Likewise, optimal muscle tension at your joints helps hold you erect and keeps you from sagging and leaning. To encourage good muscular balance, it is important to perform both stretching and strengthening exercises at all the major joints, along with trunk and pelvic floor exercises to support and align the spine. When your weight is optimally distributed around your center of gravity, you are not only less likely to lose your balance, but you are also minimizing wear and tear on your joints, bones and muscles.
Correcting Common Postural Problems
Weak muscles and poor flexibility contribute significantly to poor posture. Certain daily behaviors and practices can cause postural changes over time that may be difficult to reverse. Nevertheless, you can help your OA clients improve posture by identifying common trouble areas. For sedentary clients who spend most of their time sitting, tight hip flexor muscles coupled with weak hamstring and gluteal muscles can result in a forward pitch at the hips when standing or walking. Stretching the hip flexors and strengthening the hip extensors can help correct the situation. Exaggerated forward curvature of the upper spine, a condition called kyphosis, may result from slouching, reading, driving, spending excessive time on the computer or any other activity where you round your shoulders forward. The result is tight chest and shoulder muscles coupled with weak back muscles. Stretching the chest and shoulders while strengthening the mid and upper back muscles can help to offset the problem. Because the core muscles play an important role in supporting the spine and dictating pelvic alignment, core training should be well integrated into your workout regimen.
Educating yourself about older adult health is key to successfully working with this diverse population. W.I.T.S. has got you covered with certification and continuing education courses including Certified Older Adult Fitness Specialist, Able Bodies Balance Training, Certified Personal Trainer, Older Adult Fitness Foundations, and Exercise Program Design for Special Populations.
References and Credits
IDEA Health and Fitness Association: The Perils of Poor Posture
The Perils of Poor Posture
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