Stand up straight
How to Live to 100: Page 7
7. Protect your posture.
What the research shows: Sitting and stress are the enemies of the spine, aging experts say. Why? Both tend to make us hunch forward, head jutting forward between rounded shoulders. But poor posture does much more harm than make you look old, researchers say. Rounded posture compresses the nerves and disks in the spine, restricting blood flow to the supporting muscles and leading to neck, shoulder, back, and hip pain.
In addition, recent research has focused on the connection between poor posture and breathing disorders and circulatory health. Some doctors have patients do this experiment: While hunched forward, try to draw a deep breath into your lungs. You'll find it's very hard to do.
Over time, poor posture is also a major contributor to balance problems and falls.
How to make this work for you: The key is to relearn how to stand, sit, and lie so your spine is stretched straight and tall, says Esther Gokhale, author of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back (Pendo Press, 2008), who teaches posture therapy classes in Palo Alto, California. To put Gokhale's principles into practice, roll your shoulders back and down, opening up the chest, and "stack" the spine directly over the hips, stretching it as tall as possible. Tuck your ribs back against your spine, letting your pelvis come naturally forward.
Unfortunately, following the commandment to "stand up straight" is more difficult than it sounds for those who need to undo years of damage. In this case, postural therapy, a type of physical therapy, can help you strengthen and rebalance specific muscles necessary to hold the spine in the correct posture. Some physiotherapy experts also advocate "inversion therapy," in which you use a device to hang upside down to reverse the effects of gravity. Practicing yoga can help you achieve the same goal through inverted postures such as headstands, shoulder stands, and others.
An additional benefit: Some participants in postural therapy say they've regained as much as an inch in height lost to aging.