When I was younger, over time, I observed one of the most obvious things that made people look old was slouching. Unlike wrinkles, posture is something I could do something about. I vowed I would work hard to assure I was never hunched over.
My mother had always done her best to make sure her children achieved that goal from the start. The instructions were “head up, shoulders back, tummy tucked….” I’m sure everyone has heard and knows the drill: “Don’t slouch!”
My mother was not alone in her directives. One day, sitting on a bench outside of Mayo Clinic awaiting my ride, I commented to the person sitting next to me that she had such beautiful posture. She made me feel like a slouch! Her response was her mother had always insisted on perfect posture. For her, it became a good habit at a very early age. So the concern by mothers for their children’s good posture was not a local one, because this woman was from Montana.
I also learned good posture from my piano teacher. She was a great taskmaster, very demanding and strict. I can’t recall if I appreciated it in those years, but I certainly have realized the value of her training in my adult years. She too allowed no slouching on the bench. In her school of thought, one would never play the keyboard well unless sitting up very straight. As a result, I have never had to remind myself to keep my back straight while playing the piano or organ: that is just natural to me.
In retrospect, I guess the high school typing teacher must have stressed it for the typewriter keyboard, too. My first job out of high school was as a production typist for Dun & Bradstreet. Typing all day — fast and accurate — could be grueling. But as I sit here now at a keyboard, I realize my back is straight and my feet are flat on the floor. That good posture, reinforced by my typing teacher, likely made that typing job much more tolerable.
I am not sure if my mother knew good reasons for “proper” posture, other than that it looks better. But when studying kinesics (a category of nonverbal communication), it became very apparent that posture sends important messages.
Once at the big airline, it was decided to do a study to find out the passengers’ perception of flight deck crews. The results were not surprising, and all based on nonverbal cues, or kinesics. The traveling public expects the pilots to “look professional” — they should “have straight, upright posture” among other things. Somehow, that made them more competent pilots.
In addition to sending nonverbal messages (intended or not), there are health reasons for good posture. Just a quick look online produces many sources to confirm that, along with remedies. For instance, Kelly Savole at prevention.com lists seven results of bad posture (based on various studies) including deepening depression, career problems (not “looking vital”), it can “bind you up,” and increase the risk of disease and death. The statistics cited for that one are that for people over 25, every hour of TV —slouched on a couch — reduced the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes, it doubled the risk of diabetes, and showed a 147 percent increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease. It was also found that people with poor posture look heavier, it cuts off circulation and can stress out a person.
Dr. David Jockers in “Bad Posture Equals Bad Health” (at naturalnews.com) stated it simply, “Posture is the window into your spine.”
Steven Weiniger has written a book on the topic titled “Stand Tall, Live Longer.”
Someone has specified one part of posture as particularly damaging to our health — “Forward Neck Syndrome” — and calls it an epidemic.
These are just a small sampling of the reinforcements that good posture is vital to our health.
I still believe that posture is the first thing that makes people look old. Someone who stands, or sits, up straight just looks more alive and vital. With the head up, we are more likely also to look at others, to make eye contact, and maybe even to smile at others!
The only problem is, now that I am one of those older people, it is not always easy to sit and/or stand up straight. If I am hurting somewhere, which happens more often now than in the past, it seems natural to sort of sink into myself. Unfortunately, that could easily become a habit, replacing the good and healthy one.
Many years ago, I purchased a posture-improving vest. When put on and properly fastened, it forces the shoulders back and the spine properly straightened. I had forgotten about it, and recently I dug it out of a drawer. Now if I can just remember to put it on, it should be a good reminder to stand (and sit) up straight.