Spirit of Women National

SUM 2016

Spirit of Women magazine is a national publication presented to women by hospitals and their physicians. The magazine provides up-to-date, evidence-based healthcare information and promotes our hospitals as leaders in women's health excellence.

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2 7 w w w. s p i r i t o f w o m e n . c o m S U M M E R 2 016 S P I R I T O F W O M E N SHUTTERSTOCK Y our third-grade teacher was right: Posture is important, and you look better when you sit and stand your tallest. But practicing good posture also has many proven health benefits. "Good posture decreases the chance of injury, sets up improved alignment and decreases the risk of pain," says Elizabeth Ironside, a physical therapist affiliated with Aspirus Riverview Hospital in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. Poor posture and weak core muscles can mean double trouble even if you're otherwise healthy. When you slump, your trunk collapses forward, your belly bulges and the trunk extensor muscles in your back lengthen and weaken. This can become a significant problem for women with bone loss in the spine due to osteoporosis, says Kim Snyder, a physical therapist who founded and sold High Pointe Therapy to The Women's Hospital in Newburgh, Ind., where she works today. "Improper weight bearing on the front of the backbone—the vertebral body—can cause silent fractures, which can change the shape of the vertebral body," says Snyder. In addition, when core weakness contributes to poor alignment of the body, it can lead to back and shoulder pain, limited shoulder mobility, difficulty breathing and other problems. CORE ISSUES One of the best ways to improve your posture is to strengthen your core, which includes all of the muscles attached to your pelvis. Your deep core consists of three muscle groups, and it takes all three working together to boost spine and pelvic stability. That's why high-functioning athletes can still have poor core strength, no matter how many hundreds of situps and crunches they do. In fact, physical therapist Angie Sellers says she doesn't encourage these types of exercises at all. "They can actually make the back worse," says Sellers, who has a master's degree in physical therapy and is affiliated with St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield, Mo. Instead, the key to better posture is "strengthening and lengthening," Snyder explains: Strengthen the core through exercise and lengthen the spine through habits that can be practiced as you go about your daily activities. MAKING IT COUNT Workouts with an exercise ball and rowing-type exercises are ideal for strengthening and lengthening. Sellers also recommends doing side planks, a core exercise that's easy to learn and master. Start by lying on your side, with your body straight from head to foot. Put your weight on your forearm, with your elbow positioned right under your shoulder. Then contract your abdominal muscles and lift your hips off the floor, holding the pose for 20 to 40 seconds. Repeat the move two or three times per side, and feel the burn in your core muscles. Stretching and lengthening your spine becomes even easier when you can find ways to incorporate it into common everyday activities such as driving or sitting at a desk, Snyder says. "Sit closer to the steering wheel, which forces your body more upright, so you don't have to reach as far forward," she suggests. "Raise your chest bone to the highest comfortable position, and set the rearview mirror in a position where you can clearly see out of it. Then don't adjust it later in the day," when you may be tired and tempted to slump on your commute home. Another tip? Don't cross your arms when standing, which causes you to pull your body forward around your spine, Snyder says. "Instead, stand with your arms behind your back with hands clasped on your hips and your thumbs facing forward," she advises. Finally, avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time. Once you are at the office, Snyder suggests changing positions every 15 minutes to avoid locking into a habit of poor posture. If you have a desk job, consider conducting business from a standing workstation or taking calls or meetings on foot. "Move it or lose it," says Snyder. "Our bodies are not meant to be static." If you suffer from arthritis or other conditions that cause chronic pain, you may need be somewhat limited in how much activity you can do to maintain good posture. But Ironside advocates doing as much as you can for as long as you can. "In the end, gravity wins," she says. "[But] let's make that at age 98, not 23." • 4 benefits of good core care 1. Supporting the spine and pelvis (to improve posture) 2. Improving the function of the extremities so they work more effciently 3. Supporting the pelvic organs 4. Helping improve balance Strengthen the core through exercise and lengthen the spine through better daily habits.

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