Most people associate the word stress with their emotional state. However, emotional stress is accompanied by nutritional stress, environmental stress, dental stress, and postural stress. Postural stress is todays focus. So with that being said, how is your posture? Postural stress has a dramatic impact on our entire health and wellbeing every single day. Although certain exercises can be programmed for improvements, I stand strong in saying the number one corrective exercise is awareness and understanding what good posture means throughout the other 23 hours of each day.
Things to consider: Head posture, spinal alignment, sleeping position, work posture, walking mechanics, being sedentary, toilet position, and over training.
Head Posture & Spinal Alignment
The average human head weighs approximately 5kg. Im sure you don’t need to re witness a public transport or food hall scenario to believe what Im saying, but where is everyones attention on the trams and the trains? Down in their laps on their phones and electronic devices. When the head is tilted forward its effective weight increases, placing greater pressure on the neck. A 30 degree head tilt creates the equivalent of holding 18kg instead of 5. Furthermore a 45 degree tilt (not uncommon to see), is closer to the equivalent of holding a 22kg head.
This kind of position combined with long periods of sitting and slumped posture, is a lead cause for chronic musculoskeletal pain and conditions. This also restricts our ability to breath, it negatively compromises digestion by squashing the intestines and in some cases may even create constipation. Forward head posture misaligns the spine and consequently affects body chemistry all while leading to greater likelihood of chronic headaches, neck tension, back pain, fatigue, and weight gain.
An experiment for my own amusement, I asked a handful of members in our gym what the most important thing is that we consume? The answers were delivered with conviction giving water the crown of importance. Wrong! You could potentially survive a couple weeks without water and even longer without food, but you will die after minutes in the absence of oxygen.
Breathing regulates the amount of carbon dioxide in your lungs. This impacts the biochemical acid alkali balance of your entire body. I want to do a specific piece on breathing in coming weeks but just quickly, do you breathe through your mouth or do you breathe through your nose?
To improve clearing airways, when breathing through the mouth your head will naturally tilt up, however as human beings we like to keep our eyes forward toward the horizon so in order to maintain balance, we shift the head forward creating that increased relative weight mentioned before.
Mouth breathing is often shallow chest breathing, whereas nasal breathing is more likely going to engage the diaphragm and utilise the entire available capacity of the lungs for optimal oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange. If you don’t engage your diaphragm (nasal belly breathing) while breathing, it places additional strain on the neck and shoulders as they try to lift the rib cage. Again, all of these upper back, neck, and shoulder muscles are commonly associated with chronic tension headaches and referred pain.
I have written on the topic of NEAT before (Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). This includes everything energy expending other than direct sport and exercise, eating and sleeping. The research shows people who are less active (most sedentary) are likely to consume greater amounts of food per meal while perceiving less meal satisfaction and higher cravings for carbohydrates.
Obesity researcher, James Levine says the biggest difference between people of average weight and those who are overweight isn’t related to diet or exercise, but to the amount of time they are seated. This is because of an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, found in the cells that line the tiny blood vessels of muscles and in fatty tissue, where it plays a critical role in the breakdown of fat.
When standing, the postural muscles that support your weight release this enzyme helping you burn fat. A typical day of sitting lowers lipoprotein lipase activity by up to 90 percent.
When we spend our time sitting, we have minimal muscle contractions. Muscle contractions play a role in clearing blood sugar levels and body fat levels. Chronically elevate blood sugar levels are a sure pathway to chronic inflammation, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even cancers.
Do you sleep on your stomach or on your back? If you answered either, then the news is bad. Sleeping on your front puts strain on the muscles of the head, neck, jaw, and spine, and can restrict the airway. Sleeping on your back can lower the jaw and the tongue can drop to the back of your throat and again restrict the airway and often causes us to snore. If you’re snoring, you’re not breathing properly. If you’re not breathing properly you are not going to get the restorative benefits of deep sleep that are SO crucial to all aspects of health.
Side sleeping with a proportioned pillow to support the head and spine, complimented with another under a bent hip and knee, and my personal favourite one more for spooning in your arms should have you find the most comfortable and healthy sleeping position.
Overall, we simply don’t pay enough attention to our posture. For the most of us, we only focus on it when we are in chronic pain but hopefully by now you can see its importance to all aspects of your health and lifestyle. People who maintain good posture report having higher self esteem, levels happiness, enthusiasm, and better moods. Being more active and taking short breaks from sitting every 20-30 minutes will improve blood glucose levels, improve brain function and promote healthy cognitive ageing.
It’s in our DNA.
It’s what we were designed to do.