One of the unfortunate hallmarks of advancing age is a rounded back posture. Several factors play a role in the development of this postural stoop, or hyperkyphosis, the term for the exaggerated rounded upper spine. These range from loss of muscular strength to osteoporosis and disc degeneration.
The spine is made up of bones (the vertebrae) and cushioned by discs between the bones. Over time, both the bones and discs can degenerate, leading to a breakdown in the support system. The bones can become porous and weak from osteoporosis, and the discs can lose their cushioning, becoming harder and less flexible. In addition, as we age, the loss of muscle mass and strength can further exacerbate this problem.
Although these age-related changes aren’t reversible, you can improve your posture as you age by maintaining strong back muscles. The secret to standing tall is a series of exercises that targets the key muscles associated with spine support. Even if you’ve already started to stoop, you can improve your posture in just a few weeks by including the following exercises in your routine.
Foam Roller Balance
What you’ll need: foam roller or thick rolled-up towel
- Lie down on a firm surface with the foam roller or towel placed under your head (so it’s supporting it), running vertically down the spine.
- Bend your knees and lay your arms out to your sides at shoulder height on the ground, and hold for 60 seconds.
- In the same position, flip your lower arm up into a 90-degree position while keeping your upper arm at shoulder level. Allow your arm to relax into the floor, and hold for 60 seconds.
What you’ll need: resistance band
- In a standing position, wrap the resistance band around each hand so it’s taut.
- Keep your arms at your sides with your elbows bent at 90 degrees and hands in front of you.
- Pull the band by squeezing your shoulder blades together as tightly as you can, and hold for five seconds, working up to a ten-second hold over time. Repeat five to ten times.
- Stand with your back against a wall (your body should be touching the wall).
- Place your hands at your sides with palms up.
- Slowly raise your arms, keeping them against the wall as you lift. Try to lift your arms all the way overhead without losing touch with the wall.
- Slowly lower arms and repeat two to five times, several times a day (especially after sitting at a desk or computer).
- Sit in a comfortable chair with your back supported.
- Dip your chin down just an inch or so and then draw it back toward your neck. Keep your shoulders stationary as you do this, and hold the contraction for five seconds.
- Repeat five times. Do this exercise several times each day.
- Lie on a mat or cushioned floor on your tummy with your legs out straight. You can cushion your forehead with a small towel if needed.
- Place your arms along your sides with palms up.
- Take a breath, and as you exhale, lift your head as you squeeze your shoulder blades together and lift your feet. You should feel the muscles of your back tighten as you do this.
- Hold the contraction for a count of five, then relax.
- Repeat three to five times.
Note: As your back muscles become stronger, you can raise your head, shoulders, and feet higher and hold for a longer duration.
Lifestyle Changes That Impact
Although a stooped back is associated with the aging process, common postural mistakes can create a rounded back at any age. Here are a few things you can do to keep your back straight and healthy throughout life.
How You View Your Smartphone Screen
There’s been a sharp uptick in young people experiencing “text neck” and upper-back pain as a result of hunching forward to view their phone screens for hours each day. Correct your posture as you view by raising the phone toward your face and drawing your shoulders back. Practice the chin tuck exercise several times a day to correct your neck posture.
Standing With Your Weight on One Leg
This posture creates a muscle imbalance, increasing strain on your back. Become more aware of how you stand, and practice standing with your weight equally placed on each leg. Avoid resting one hand on your hip as you stand, which can cause you to jut out one side of your pelvis.
One-Shoulder Bag or Backpack Carry
Always carrying your bag or pack on one shoulder creates an imbalance down your entire spine. Doing this for years can cause one side of your body to become weaker than the other and lead to back problems.
If possible, drape your bag strap across your chest, so the weight is more evenly distributed, or switch from side to side frequently. With a backpack, avoid overloading it to the point that the weight is hard to carry, and adjust the straps so that it fits snug to your back with no slack.
Slouching in a Chair
The less time you can spend sitting, the better. But if your job requires long periods of sitting, try these fixes:
- Invest in an ergonomically designed chair that can be adjusted to your body. Ideally, it should have good lumbar support and allow you to shift the height so that your feet can comfortably rest on the ground.
- If you can’t adjust your chair height, rest your feet on a small step stool or box, so your hips are at a 90-degree angle.
- Bring your chair close to your desk, so you don’t have to reach uncomfortably to work.
- Adjust your computer screen so that you’re looking straight at it.
- Get up and walk for several minutes every hour, and do the stretches listed above multiple times each day to restore proper posture.
Catherine Cram is an exercise physiologist and a leading expert in the field of maternal fitness. Her consulting company, “Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness” specializes in providing the most current maternal exercise information and continuing education courses to health and fitness professionals.