A Guide to the Best Exercises for Treatment and Prevention of Poor Posture in the Elderly
Poor posture is a health issue that can affect us at any stage of life. However, as we age our risk of developing a forward slumped posture increases due to several factors that will be covered in this article.
Poor posture is not only aesthetically displeasing; it can be a sign of, or even contribute to, an array of health issues. Of course, the best treatment is prevention through awareness and exercise. Yet, it is never too late to start taking action.
Risk Factors for Poor Posture in the Elderly Population
As we age, it is commonplace to start noticing changes as you get older, such as a slight increase in fat storage and a decrease in muscle mass and flexibility. These in turn can directly affect the amount of exercise and daily activities that an aging individual can safely participate in. Yet, the truth is that while some changes are inevitable, a lot of it can be stopped. These changes paired with a decrease in activity level lead to a vicious cycle of aging that can lead to many chronic health issues, including poor posture.
Don’t Get Stuck in the Cycle
Since muscle strength plays a large role in being able to hold ourselves upright, keeping muscles strong and fit will minimize the temptation to slouch.
Unfortunately, if muscles do lose their ability to hold good posture the body will then rely on connective tissue such as ligaments and bone for support. Since bone mass is gradually decreasing and stiffness is increasing with each decade of life, this can become a recipe for disaster.
If bone mass has decreased enough to be at risk for osteoporosis, poor posture can even cause the spine to deform and “wedge” in a way that makes it nearly impossible to sit up straight. Adequate exercise has the benefit of maintaining healthy muscle and bone mass.
The Anatomy of Poor Posture
There are a lot of factors that go into poor posture. Since the spine is intricately connected, it is hard to decide what causes this cascade of poor alignment. Regardless, one of the hallmark signs of poor posture is a forward head. This puts enormous strain on the upper body as gravity takes hold of the head.
All of a sudden, an 8-10 pound head feels like it’s 40 (ouch!). From there, the shoulders tend to round forward causing the chest muscles to become tight, the upper back slumps forward and the low back arches excessively in attempt to keep the spine balanced and the body upright.
All of this is recipe for pain, low energy due to poor body mechanics and strain on the muscles, bones and ligaments.
Here are 5 Posture Exercises For Seniors
The key with all of these is to keep the neck relaxed and shoulders low (away from the ears). If you feel tension in the neck that means you need to start slower and make the movement smaller or easier until you have better control.
1. Shoulder Blade Squeezes:
This may seem simple but the focus is all on form, which is harder than most people realize. Imagine there is quarter on the spine between the lower half of the shoulder blades. Try bringing the shoulder blades together to pinch the quarter.
Remember, since it is positioned lower you will have to move your shoulders at a slight downward diagonal. This will help you keep your shoulders low (they shouldn’t come up near your neck or cause tension in the neck or shoulders).
Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat 10 times. Complete as many sets as you can fit in throughout the day with daily activities like driving, sitting, etc. Progression options include rows when you are ready.
2. Chin Tucks:
This is a simple exercise that works on keeping the neck in balance. Poor posture pinches the muscles in the back of the head and stretches the front neck muscles.
Practicing tucking the chin toward the chest in various positions will help restore (or prevent imbalance) of these muscles. Start lying on your back with a small rolled towel or pillow at the base of the skull (not in the neck curve).
Gently bring the chin to the chest as if you’re trying to give yourself a double chin while keeping the back of the head relaxed on the pillow. Don’t force it or tense up! You can progress to standing and sitting when ready. You can visit this article to get a step by step guide to performing a chin tuck. Follow the repetitions guidelines for shoulder blade squeezes above.
3. Chest Stretches:
You can stretch the chest one of two ways: a doorway or on the floor. In the doorway, approach the doorframe with the arms in a “touchdown” position until the hands are touching each side.
Then gently lean (preferably in a lunge position) into the door until a stretch is felt. Otherwise, simply lying on the floor with the arms outstretched in a “T” position might be a great way to relax and stretch if tolerated. You can then progress to a “Y” or place a foam roller or towel under the spine. Hold for 30- 60 seconds at a time 2-3 times.
4. Core Progression:
Abdominal strength plays a big role in posture since it keeps the pelvis in good alignment and prevents the low back from arching excessively. Practice lightly tightening the abs with your normal daily activities (as if someone was going to punch you and you needed to protect yourself).
Tighten them in a way that you can still breathe and move (even if it feels awkward). The easiest way to start is by lying down with the knees bent and then progress to other positions from there.
5. Wall Posture Training:
This is a great way to put it all together. Stand with the feet 6-12 inches from the wall. Put the entire spine against the wall from the butt to head. Now try to touch the shoulders, back of the head, mid back and butt to the wall without straining anywhere or excessively arching the back (being able to fit the hand through the small of the back is ok but nothing more).
This exercise isn’t about being perfect. In fact, our spine are supposed to have a slight “S” curve to them so don’t strive for a flat back on the wall. Practice holding up to 30 seconds at a time. Then try to maintain this position as long as possible when you move.
Remember, if you feel a strain don’t force it. There are general guidelines for good posture but you must listen to your body to find the best spot for your specific anatomy!
What to Expect with Consistency
These exercises are simple but effective. If they are done consistently they will help train your body (and mind) to keep good posture. Poor posture is typically more of an issue of habit exacerbated by age related problems.
If you can stay consistent, you will quickly build a new habit that gets the spine used to holding an ideal posture. It may feel awkward and hard at first but it will get easier as you stay on task.
BONUS: Try adding a regular exercise routine to these exercises to maximize the benefits of muscle strength, bone density and overall endurance.
For other advice related to aging with grace, check out Senior Home Care HQ’s resources.
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