by Caroline von Fluegge-Chen
It turns out “stand up straight” isn’t just good advice from your mother.
Aging experts increasingly believe posture is, in some cases, an indicator of how well you will age. They suggest seniors in particular, who sometimes begin to stoop or shuffle as they grow older, should be more aware of their body alignment and take action if their posture is out of whack.
“Posture affects everything we do. We want people to build an awareness about their posture … and teach them to move with greater symmetry and balance,” says Dr. Steven Weiniger, a Florida chiropractor and posture expert who works with seniors. Most elders are aware of how important exercise is, and more are having balance testing done — both good ways to prevent falls. But Weiniger said posture is an overlooked part of the wellness equation.
Primary care physicians may recognize the health risks that hunched shoulders and “flexed” posture hint at. But often, they refer those patients for physical therapy when it’s almost too late, said Kevin Pallone, a physical therapist specializing in geriatrics.
Posture is one of the things he evaluates at his clinics in Boynton Beach and at the Louis and Anne Green Memory and Wellness Center on Florida Atlantic University’s Boca Raton campus.
Slouching seniors who come in complaining they have a balance problem often also have a complicated mix of poor posture, weak muscles and bones and limited flexibility, Pallone said. Mix them together and the person could be at risk for respiratory problems and neck and lower back pain that will cause them to become even more glued to the couch.
A recent study, published online in the Journals of Gerontology Series biological and medical sciences series, suggests that seniors with a specific type of poor posture — high “trunk line of inclination” angles between two specific vertebra — might be more likely to eventually need at-home care or be admitted to a nursing home.
Japanese researchers looked at 804 people aged 65 and older who were living in a town near Tokyo, taking four different spinal measurements with a computer-based “spinal mouse.” They found, in doing a follow-up almost five years later, that those with the greatest trunk line inclinations were 3 1/2 times more likely to have lost their ability to feed, bathe or dress themselves.
“Accumulated evidence shows that good spinal posture is important in [allowing] the aged to maintain independent lives,” the researchers wrote.
A delegate to the last White House Conference on Aging in 2005, Weiniger says posture is important to healthy aging because it is tied to movement.
“We know that movement allows you to maintain a level of activity and the more active you are, the better you age,” said Weiniger, who created the StrongPosture program detailed in his book, “Stand Taller — Live Longer” ($9.99 Kindle edition at amazon.com; $22.95 softcover).
Stretching techniques and proper exercises can help seniors regain muscle strength, improve posture and gain flexibility, Pallone said. “Can we get them to where they are 18 again? No,” he said. “Can we get them feeling better? Yes.”