I am a child of the 50’s. I finished my secondary school education in the late 60’s, my university studies in the early 70’s. My career in education spanned 30 years and ended in 2005. You can do the math and estimate that I am in my late 50’s, and you would be right.
Throughout my life, funerals of family members and long time friends have been concentrated collection points from my past relationships. At this stage, it is common to encounter people whom I haven’t seen for 20 or 30 years. The same goes for high school reunions. The game of recognize and recall can be kind of fun. There are other emotions that fit here as well; surprise, shock, pleasure, sadness, joy, pleasure, etc.
I have noticed a common reaction to such encounters at several recent gatherings. After name and information retrieval the response is, “I can still recognize you. You’re looking well.” and then the question I really like: “Are you getting taller?”.
The reality is that my height hasn’t changed much. If anything, I am a little taller. When I am around my contemporaries who are shrinking as they age, I look taller. When we haven’t seen each other for 10 years or more, the difference is striking.
I can thank my attention to posture for that. This has been a four year journey, but the results are paying off. I learned to embed good posture as normal in my brain. It is my “go to” position. It has helped me maintain my height and freedom from back and neck pain through some demanding situations.
We lose our height for 3 main reasons:
- Compression of the discs or padding between joints reduces the separation between bones; especially the vertebrae.
- Excessive curvature spine; neck, shoulders and lower back.
- Our vertical alignment has changed. This is most noticed in the awkward angle of the neck, associated with forward head posture, but it also occurs in the hips and legs. It moves our center of gravity forward, the axis that should be centered around our spine.
At 59, weighing 40 more pounds than in my 20’s, I’ve learned that vertical shrink isn’t inevitable; even if you expand laterally. Attention to good mechanics as you move, sit and stand can minimize the stress on joints so they are preserved. Keeping all parts mobile and active maintains vitality and support to fight against the sag. Here are some guidelines:
- Align the spine. Nerves leave the spine, blood vessels enter. Too much or too little curvature means uneven pressure on joints, collapsing discs and reducing space. This contributes to compression and spinal shortening.
- Preserve the Curve: The spine has a natural healthy curve for a reason. It acts like a shock absorber as you walk, run, carry a load, etc. Muscles around the spine act as coil springs with enough give to create dynamic movement and support. Muscles on the inside of the curve shorten and become tenacious and rigid. Outside muscles become stretched and weak. Keeping the curve in healthy shape will maintain its length and your height.
- Restore the Core: The core has been compared to a soup can. The top is the diaphragm, the bottom is the pelvic floor. The sides are represented by the abdominals in front and the lower spine behind. A strong core requires muscle balance on all sides and is the anchor for good posture. It also restricts the lateral spread.
Imagine carrying a heavy weight on your head, like they have done for millennia in many parts of the world. Perfect posture is the protection against serious spinal injury. Are they bracing to carry the load or do they lift it with their spine? It may surprise you to discover how much force you can generate using only your spine. How do they do that? Those spinal muscles tighten to provide the lift. That is exercise and it increases spinal health and strength.
Dr. Makofky, Professor of Physical Therapy and textbook author, called this mechanism the Spinal Corkscrew Principle. Depressing your shoulders provides a lifting action on the spine. It is extended and stabilized by recruiting the neglected muscles that need conditioning. It activates the core muscles around your spine so they get stronger. Prolonging this activity, like carrying a load on your head, or doing it frequently embeds this action in your habits. It is called kinaesthetic awareness.
Perhaps the greatest tool for exercise is the mirror. They line the walls of workout studios and gyms. Visible changes that develop from your hard work are very motivating. It is proof that it is paying off! But there are the virtual mirrors as well. Friends, acquaintances say things like; “Are you getting taller?” or “You’re looking really good! Have you lost weight?” They also reflect back to you, letting you know that you have made a change, and it is good.
There are a great many reasons for good posture, apart from impressing your old friends and acquaintances at funerals and school reunions. Dire warnings about the dangers of poor diet are just as applicable to poor posture. We are surrounded by evidence for both. Many defy the odds of poor body mechanics but a great many others suffer disabilities and chronic pain, shortening their lives by not heeding the warnings.
Compressing anything in our bodies for extended periods is generally not a good thing. Blood flows more easily in vessels that are straight with no kinks. Digestion works better when space isn’t cramped. Breathing is most efficient when the chest can fully expand and the diaphragm isn’t restricted. A host of medical conditions are affected by mechanical stressors, but that is a topic for another article.
So do yourself a favor. Give yourself a lift! The actual and virtual mirrors in your life will pay you compliments instead of sending you messages you try avoid.