Bone Health Part 6: Improve Your Posture

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What are the best exercises to improve posture?

  • Proper spinal alignment
  • Core stability
  • Body mechanics

The best exercises to improve posture focus on proper spinal alignment, core stabilization, and body mechanics. Good posture and safe body dynamics protect your bones and allow you to stay active and independent.

Posture exercises train you to stand, walk, sit, and lie in positions where the joints are properly aligned, and the least strain is placed on the muscles and bones.

How to align the spine

Simple exercises that don’t require any special equipment or training can help you align your spine naturally. First let’s look at the structure of the spine and the benefits of proper alignment.

In neutral alignment, the four natural curves of the spine create a functional balance and maintain proper posture. 

  • two slight inward curves of the neck (cervical) and low back (lumbar)

  • two slight outward curves of the mid-back (thoracic) and the sacrum

When properly aligned, these curves:

  • counteract the constant force of gravity on the body

  • ensure that the joints work efficiently

  • enhance body mechanics in all positions – standing, walking, sitting, and lying

How does spinal alignment benefit personal well-being?

Standing in alignment puts less stress on the spine and improves balance by centering your body weight over your legs. How you stand and move determines how well the skeleton can distribute body weight and absorb the impacts of daily living.

Overloading any one bone can exceed the strength of that bone. Slow and steady overloading caused by poor posture can cause the bones to break. For example, if you have a forward curve in the upper back, as the weight of the head moves forward of the shoulders it may cause fragile vertebrae in the spine to fracture.

Spinal alignment exercises

Get in the habit of doing four simple exercises to improve spinal alignment. Repeat each move 5-10 times a day.

1. Lengthen the spine: Restore and maintain the normal spinal curves.

  • Take a deep breath, fill the belly with air, and gradually lengthen the spine, lifting the top of head to the ceiling.

  • Elongate the sides of 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.

2. Realign the head: The “neck press” strengthens neck and upper back muscles.

  • Put two fingers lightly on chin.

  • Inhale, then exhale using fingers to retract chin, i.e. moving it straight back, pressing the curve out of the back of the neck.

  • Keep chin level being careful not to push it down.

  • The ear should be over the shoulder when viewed from the side.

3. Reverse the forward slump: Squeeze shoulder blades down and together.

  • Hold arms out to the sides, palms forward in a “goal post” position, elbows bent in line with the shoulders.

  • Inhale, then squeeze the shoulder blades down and together as you slowly exhale.

  • The elbows drop slightly, forming a “W.”

  • Caution: do not do this exercise if you have pain in your back.

4. Align the torso: Stack ribcage over hips

  • Using thumbs at the bottom of ribcage and little fingers on top of the hip bones ensure that they are stacked on top of each other with the pelvis in neutral.

  • Use core muscles to stabilize your trunk in this alignment.

Video – Exercises to improve posture, steps 2 & 3: Two easy exercises to align the spine.

 

Why is core stability important?

Core stabilization is key to holding the torso in proper alignment as you move your arms and legs. The best exercises for core stability work the abdominals and the spinal muscles in an integrated fashion so they function as a unit, as when you perform a plank or opposite arm & leg lift.

These types of core stability exercises are especially safe if you have osteopenia or osteoporosis of the spine, since they are performed with the trunk in neutral alignment as opposed to exercises that require you to round forward in spinal flexion, as in a crunch.

The deep abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominis (TVA), is a lumbar stabilizer which acts to maintain the position of the pelvis in neutral alignment in all positions – standing, sitting, and lying face up. You can strengthen this muscle with specific exercises, like the ball transfer.

What are body mechanics?

Body mechanics are good posture in motion. They refer to the way you hold your body when you move. Proper body mechanics help you avoid muscle fatigue and injuries as you walk, bend over, lift objects, or perform other activities of daily living. Safe body mechanics for osteoporosis include:

  • Align your body – head, nose, knees, and toes should point in the same direction.

  • Bend your knees and hip joints, not your back.

  • Rotate your whole body, don’t turn from the shoulders or twist your back.

  • Move objects closer to you, instead of leaning into them.

Related: What Are Osteoporosis Exercises to Avoid? and Core Stability Exercises

Disclaimer: The information presented in this article should not be construed as medical advice. It is not intended to replace consultation with your physician or healthcare provider.

Author

  • Joan Pagano has specialized in strength training for women since 1988 – training, teaching, and writing books on the subject, including Strength Training Exercises for Women (DK, 2014). When the health benefits of strength training started making headlines in the 1990s, and in particular how weight training could protect the bones and prevent osteoporosis, it was a natural segue for her. At that time, Joan was developing and delivering fitness training guidelines for osteoporosis to national audiences of exercise professionals. Currently Joan is recognized by the industry as a leading authority on exercise program design for osteoporosis. She is certified as an Exercise Physiologist by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is on the Ambassadors Leadership Council for the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Visit Joan at: www.joanpaganofitness.com/

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