Straighten Up: The Importance Of Good Posture

When posture is the topic of conversation, you can’t help but imagine wearing a dress from the 1800s and balancing books on your head while flouncing around the room. Well, that’s what I imagine anyway.

RELATED: Five Exercises To Improve Posture

Posture is often overlooked as we go about our daily activities and is something that is regularly taken for granted. However, having good posture is extremely important, especially when we are constantly glued to computer screens while sitting in chairs that aren’t positioned right. How we sit at work, in the car and on the lounge can affect our posture, and thus our health.

Having good posture is as important as exercising regularly and eating healthy. Without it, our health is affected. Poor posture can cause fatigue, placing stress on your muscles to hold you up and can cause these muscles to become tight and achy, which increases the risk of injury. Poor posture can also cause problems with digestion and breathing.

The causes of poor posture are unique to the individual. Poor posture can result from weak core muscles, which cause the hips and torso to become unaligned and places more pressure on the lower back. Sitting for long periods during the day, such as that of office work can also cause poor posture from tightened hip flexors.

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Other causes of poor posture range from weight gain to wearing high heels. Driving in cars with poorly designed seats, sitting in the wrong seat for your body at work and the increasingly electronic society has us throwing out our posture and causing health issues.

If you look around your office, does everyone has perfect posture, or are many people stooped at their desks in front of their computer? Posture is something that we need to take into our own hands to correct.

Regular exercise is a great way to keep your posture healthy (and your body as well!). It strengthens and tones your muscles, and keeps them flexible. Regular exercise can also keep your weight down which has a positive affect on your posture, as excess weight, especially on the stomach, weakens the abdominals and pulls on the back.

You also need the best support for your back from where you sit and sleep. Ensuring that your chair is the right height for your desk and computer screen can help to avoid posture problems and investing in a good quality mattress is a must when it comes to a healthy spine.

Images via sodahead.com and listetek.com

5 Exercises To Improve Posture

Whether you’re slumped over on the couch or in your office chair, daily habits such as these can lead to a lifetime of bad posture. Simple exercises that don’t require a gym membership or equipment are the best solution to straighten up your spine. Reserve a time during the day (or night), and repeat these exercises, which will have your body feeling brand new.

1. Squats

You didn’t think that squats were beneficial for toned buttocks did you? The secret to a good squat is to extend the arms out as far as possible, and keep a straight back. Your body should be in a straight line, from your back to your heels as you bend down to squat.

2. Blogilates

Whether you’re short on time, money or a combination of both, blogilates is a great way to get fit right in your own home. Certified fitness instructor Cassey Ho runs Blogilates, a fitness and POP pilates class directly to you. Follow a step-by-step demonstration on YouTube for a variety of viewers on how to tone up and sculpt your body. The exercises are excellent for improving posture and toning the entire body. Work at your own pace at your preferred time of day, and watch your body change dramatically over time.

3. Plank

Yes, the painful plank. This revolutionary exercise will help to straighten your back, while also working at the core and neck. Lie down on your stomach with your forearms flat on the floor, then push up and balance looking forward. Make sure you have enough space to perform this exercise, and be sure to ease into it if you’re just starting out.

4. Alexander Technique

The Alexander Technique is specifically designed to target any chronic bad habits that contribute to bad posture. The main objective of this technique is focusing on the position of the head, as this dictates how the rest of the body will follow. Relax the spine, straighten the core and stick out your chest to enjoy better posture.

5. Stretch the shoulders

Ever wondered why your shoulders are so tense? Common activities such as driving, walking and carrying an extremely heavy handbag can put incredible strain on the shoulders. Bend your elbows at a 90 degree angle and sway from side to side. Then extend them out as far as you can to conclude the exercise.

Image via Canadian Business

By Felicia Sapountzis

Big Belly Blues

If your stomach is bigger than the rest of you and diet and exercise don’t help, it may not be a weight issue.

In Part 1, SheSaid looked at how poor digestion, gut flora imbalance and food intolerances could be why your belly is bulging. We look at other possibe reasons…

Stubborn belly fat may be down to your hormonal make-up. Hormones never work in isolation and behave differently according to their synergy in your particular body.

For instance, the testosterone (“male” hormone) to oestrogen (“female” hormone) ratio is critical for women. Those with higher testosterone levels, such as sufferers of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), have thicker waists.

Cortisol is associated with stress, and more stress-reactive women release more cortisol and have higher amounts of belly fat whether they are slim or overweight.

Menopause is one of the key manifestations of how hormones literally shape our bodies. Menopausal women may not gain weight (though many do) but their shape changes as oestrogen/progesterone levels fall and testosterone, cortisol and insulin levels rise. This is usually reflected in more fat around the abdomen.

“When oestrogen starts to decline our bodies will hold tightly to the fat deposits and even lay down more fat from every available source in order to keep the hormone levels ‘normal’,” says natural therapist Jennifer Chalmers, of Sydney’s Phoenix Holistic Centre. This is particularly the case in areas that are oestrogen-specific: stomach, breasts and buttocks.

TIP: A good first step would be to visit a GP who may order a blood test to rule out any other cause. Then he or she may suggest seeing an endocrinologist or other appropriate medical or health specialist.

If menopause is a definitive factor, to combat declining oestrogen levels your diet should be high in phytoestrogens found in soy products, linseeds, fruits, vegetables, lentils, legumes and whole grains, says Jennifer Chalmers.

“Phytoestrogens provide just enough hormones to prevent excess fat being stored without producing the stronger effects of oestrogen,” she says.

Declining muscle mass as we age is another contributing factor.

“We burn more fat when we have muscle, because our metabolic rate increases as our muscle mass increases,” Jennifer says. “The body also secretes more hormone with more muscle mass.

“So weight-bearing exercise as well as moderate aerobic activity is necessary to shape the body and improve the metabolic rate, with a minimum of 30 minutes

Bad posture
If you don’t hold your body in proper alignment (and many people don’t know how, especially in our desk-bound, computer culture), it isn’t just unattractive but can make you and your belly look bigger.

One of the reasons for poor posture is lack of strength in the core (abdominal) muscles. Pilates is a method of exercising designed to help strengthen the core and improve posture, flexibility and muscle tone.

Says Pilates instructor Annie Robin of Balance Moves, in Sydney’s Bondi Beach: “It doesn’t matter how many ab crunches you do, it won’t give you a flatter stomach if you’re not holding your body the right way.”

TIP: “One of the core muscles (the tranversus abdominus) functions as an `internal corset’,” says Annie’s fellow instructor Margot McDonald. “It attaches on one side of the lower spine and wraps around the front to attach on the other side of the lower spine. When this muscle engages by virtue of correct posture it draws the belly inwards. It’s this core muscle that is responsible for reducing the waistline and giving you a flatter stomach.”

Cortisol is one of our main stress hormones, produced by the adrenal glands.

When we experience chronic stress – reasons vary from emotional difficulties to poor diet, pain or illness, job pressure and major life changes, to name some – the body is constantly churning out cortisol.

This triggers high insulin and high blood sugar, which cause everything from increased fat storage (especially around the mid-section, aka “belly fat”) to anxiety, insomnia, poor digestion, inflammation and lowered immunity.

TIP: Stress reduction techniques are as varied as there are individual personalities and needs. Yours might be exercise, meditating, having dedicated “me” time enjoying pursuits you love, having fun with good friends, a massage or seeking professional help. The important thing is to look for something that suits you and then make the time for it on a regular basis.

Poor sleep
Magazines are known to run crazy headlines like “lose weight while you sleep”, but maybe it’s not as crazy as it sounds. Prolonged lack of quality sleep, according to scientists, can play havoc with your weight and health.

This has a lot to do with our nightly hormones, notably ghrelin and leptin, explains Dr Michael Breus, author of Beauty Sleep.

“Ghrelin is the ‘go’ hormone that tells you when to eat, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin,” Dr Breus says. “Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating. When you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin. More ghrelin plus less leptin equals weight gain. You are eating more, plus your metabolism is slower when you are sleep-deprived,” Breus says.

Sleep deprivation usually also leads to eating and drinking more of the wrong things for “comfort” and energy boosts while neglecting exercise. This not only leads to weight gain but bloating.

TIP: “On average, we need about 7.5 hours of quality sleep per night,” says Dr Breus. “If you are getting this already, another half hour will not help you lose [5kg] but if you are a five-hour sleeper and start to sleep for seven hours a night, you will start dropping weight.”

Some things are just meant to be – they’re in your DNA. Then, as metabolism slows with age, areas of your body that are pre-destined to carry more fat than others – such as the abdomen – will get fatter. Spot reduction isn’t possible with diet and exercise. Non-surgical fat reduction procedures may be the answer. And that’s a whole new story!

Read part 1 of How to Flatten a ‘Fat’ Belly here.