Improve your posture to look and feel better as you mature By Lori Leath Smith
“To live a long, active, energetic life, few things matter more than good posture.” - Rene Calliet M.D.
If you’re like me, you’ve become attached to your cellphone. Let’s face it, we all like to stay connected, even if we’re in the “more mature” age group. And research is backing that up.
A recent study conducted by International Data Corporation (IDC) and sponsored by Facebook shows that 79 percent of the population between the ages 18 and 44 have their cellphones on or near them for all but up to two hours of their waking day. According to Experian Marketing Services, adults under age 45 send and receive more than 85 texts a day; adults 45-54 send and receive 33 texts a day; and adults over 55 send and receive 16 texts a day, on average. Ninety-six percent of smartphone owners text (Pew Research Center). The average adult spends 23 hours a week texting (USA Today).
This 50-something-year-old public relations and marketing professional has most certainly incorporated “texting” and other ongoing social communication with colleagues, family, friends and associates. It’s hard for me to comprehend being without my smartphone. It’s stuck to me. I feel naked without it.
And though my line of work warrants its use to a great extent, I also use mine as an alarm clock, calendar, organizer, entertainment system, game console, online messenger and, yes, sometimes even as a phone. It’s just a way of life. I even communicate with my children mostly through texting, mainly because I found out that if I wanted to connect with them, it was going to be through texting.
Could my reliance on this modern tech be harming my health? If I spend most of my time looking down and hunching forward, it might be. What got me thinking about it was sometimes after a particularly long or challenging day, I find myself fighting a headache, or feeling some tension in my shoulders and neck.
Back in the day, hanging my head to read a book, type on a typewriter or take a test could make my neck sore. But later, I’d be outside on the playground, walking somewhere or doing something physical. Today, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers are the activity devices. I’m texting, browsing and emailing more often than not. The position can be nonstop for long periods of time as I do business on my phone or answer emails during a meeting.
Now, I find myself wondering what I ever did without these modern conveniences.
The trouble is that, because I text, hunch and hover over wireless devices so frequently, the repetitive action is almost constant, sometimes even manifesting in an occasional tension headache or tight, painful shoulders. According to Florida chiropractor Dean L. Fishman, D.C., who coined the phrase and founded a corresponding research institute, “Text Neck is an overuse syndrome or a repetitive stress injury, where you have your head hung forward and down looking at your mobile device for extended periods of time.” And it is being used to describe the headaches, neck pain and shoulder pain that manifests from the curved posture created by its extensive use. Basically, text neck is when you bend your neck to text or read on your smartphone or other devices.
For every one inch of forward head posture away from neutral (which is center of ears over shoulders), the weight of your head increases by 100 percent,” explains Fishman.
In other words, the more I crane my neck, the more weight it has to carry. The human head weighs approximately 10 pounds. But when I bend my neck forward just 30 degrees, the pressure on my spine is as much as if my brain weighed 40 pounds. As my head moves forward from the center of my shoulders, my center of gravity shifts and the weight of my head dramatically increases. Tipping my head down to text on a cellphone or use a tablet can put up to 60 pounds of extra pressure on my spine, which could potentially cause chronic neck and lower back pain if not corrected.
As a Baby Boomer, I thought I would have had some natural protection against text neck since I grew up without mobile devices. But, isn’t it the same action whether you’re looking down to read, type or hold a baby, a sewing needle or a rock, for example? I can remember college days with long hours of studying or playing table Pac Man. Then, as an adult, pouring over computer documents for long hours meeting deadlines.
Texting simply adds one more activity that causes me to look down. And I’m definitely engaging for much longer periods. But whatever the label, “forward head posture” has been around since way before the first cellphone. It’s nothing new to us humans.
So, even though our necks are designed to bend forward, I believe the fact that we’re tied to our smart phones and devices almost 24/7 is causing the forward head posture syndrome to become more prevalent. I simply don’t always notice my compromised posture or even think about it when I’m engaged.
According to doctors and chiropractors, the number of text neck cases are on the rise. And they’re warning that these twinges and aches can be a forerunner of permanent arthritic damage if they go without treatment. “Forward head posture leads to long term muscle strain, disc herniations, arthritis, and pinched nerves,” according to The Mayo Clinic. And, according to the American Journal of Pain Management, “Posture effects and modulates every physiologic function from breathing to hormonal production. Spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure, pulse, and lung capacity are among the most easily influenced by posture.”
This isn’t necessarily an age issue either, although poor posture can make us look shorter, fatter and older. Our society associates hunching and poor posture with old age, but it is a misconception, although it does have a dramatic effect on your health and how you age. Poor posture and irreversible spinal distortions do not happen overnight. It takes years of abuse and neglect to develop and that’s why it becomes more evident in the elderly. I’m learning that if I make strides in better posture early enough, I can still age gracefully without the hunching. And keep myself a lot healthier, too! Dr. Roger Sperry, Nobel Prize recipient for brain research states on spine-health.com, “Ninety percent of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by movement of the spine.” Additionally, “Ninety percent of the energy output of the brain is used in relating the physical body to gravity. Only 10 percent has to do with thinking, metabolism, and healing. So when you have forward head posture, your brain will rob energy from your thinking, metabolism, and immune function to deal with abnormal gravity/posture relationships and processing.” Goodness, I need all the help I can get with my metabolism and maintaining a sharp brain. If I sit up straight, position my shoulders back and align my ears over my shoulders, research shows it can lead to very real elevations in testosterone, serotonin and tolerance for risk taking — a simple fix to keep metabolism more balanced, brain fog away and immune system healthier.
Dr. Steven Weiniger, author of “Stand Taller Live Longer” says posture can make a difference in how I look, how I feel, how I age and how long I will live. He states that “No matter the physical condition, strengthening posture helps a body move with less mechanical stress on muscles and joints, promoting more effective motion. The result: bodies feel better, perform better and wear better.”
So the next time I crane my neck to type out a text to my daughter, or search for that perfect photo to post to Facebook, I will remember that time and good habits can fix posture issues. My advice: Put away your devices some and live just a little. And, as my boss says frequently, look up, look around—not down.
Instead of carrying a heavy head, below are some practical “prescriptions” I’ve compiled for helping to alleviate text neck, forward head posture syndrome or just plain ole poor posture:
• Take regular screen breaks, and look straight ahead while tucking your chin back towards your neck every few minutes.
• Rotate your shoulders with your arms by your sides
• Sit up straight and hold your phone a little higher while texting
• Implement yoga from Beachfit Studio in Seaside or exercises such as Pilates and Bar Method, all which are focused heavily on posture.
• Look up. Stretch that neck backwards regularly.
• Hold your cellphone at eye level as much as possible. The same holds true for all screens—laptops and tablets should also be positioned so the screen is at eye level and you don’t have to bend your head forward or look down to view it.
• Move! Take frequent breaks from your phone and laptop throughout the day to stretch, walk or workout. For example, set a timer or alarm that reminds you to get up and walk around every 20 to 30 minutes. You can sit in the best chair or stand with the greatest posture, but if you are stuck in the same position for long periods, it’ll cause spinal and brain fatigue.