Poor posture in the elderly should not be seen as the norm, or something that happens “naturally” over time. Poor postural habits developed at an early age that are not corrected could have some devastating consequences as one gets older.
In today’s modern age where most people spend their time sitting in front of a computer or television screen, it is easy to develop poor posture. Even if they start off sitting upright, as the hours pass they end up slouching and don’t realize it until someone brings it to their attention.
That’s not all. You can have poor posture even when standing, especially if you use your phone a lot. It is important to be aware of how you stand, sit, and even lie down to reap the benefits of good posture. Poor, slumped posture will only lead to issues further down the line.
What Are the Consequences of Poor Posture in Elderly?
If specific muscles or muscle groups are used often due to work, sports, or out of habit, they will become bigger, stronger, and tighter. On the other hand, the opposing muscles will be underutilized, and will be smaller and weaker in comparison.
The overused muscles will keep getting tighter, pulling one’s joints out of alignment and causing a slouched over posture. This places a limit on your range of motion. Muscles can be stretched or shortened permanently if your slumped over posture becomes your normal posture. These muscles and ligaments that have been stretched or shortened will be incapable of functioning like normal.
This process can take years to happen and the timeline will differ depending on the occupation or sport you participated in. One could say that trends in society have contributed to many poor postural habits.
Adults carry heavy suitcases to work, children are strapped with large, overloaded backpacks, and many people sit in front of a computer screen at work or for entertainment. Ride the bus or metro and you will see many people slouched over their phone. As they bring their poor postural habits into old age, they will start to feel its effects, such as:
- Pain and Discomfort: A forward head posture can result in headaches, in addition to pain in the arms, hands, shoulders, eyes, and jaw.
- Decreased Lung Capacity: Slouching over decreases the space in the chest cavity, making it harder for the lungs and diaphragm to expand. The amount of oxygen your body can process decreases, and it will be harder to inhale enough air into the respiratory system when slouched over. You can even try it yourself.
- Constipation: Similar to how it is harder to breathe when you are slouched, bowel function can be affected due to reduced space in the intestine. This can lead to constipation.
- Low Back Pain: If you or someone you know has low back pain, then chances are it is the result of poor posture. People over the age of 35-40 are likely to suffer from it and attribute the discomfort as a natural part of aging. It is more likely that this pain is the result of poor postural habits that have been carried forward since childhood.
- Nerve Interference: Your spine is what helps you maintain posture. If your posture is poor, then the condition of your spine will be poor, and possibly misaligned. This may cause interference in your nerves, especially if you have a herniated disc.
- Older Appearance: Slouching will only make you look older. This is especially true for women, where rounded shoulders will cause the breasts to sag.
The most common causes of poor posture are:
- Excess weight from obesity or pregnancy.
- Weak antagonistic muscles. For example, tight chest muscles can pull on weak shoulder muscles, resulting in a kyphotic posture.
- Bad work environment.
- Inadequate sitting or standing habits.
- Not being aware of the importance of good posture and how it pertains to proper bodily functions.
Benefits of Good Posture
We keep talking about posture. Good, bad, what is it? Posture is how one positions their body upright against gravity while sitting, standing or lying down. Thus, “good” posture means you know how to place your body in positions where the strain of gravity is the least on the supporting muscles and ligaments. Poor posture in the elderly is the result of not knowing this and enduring decades of unnecessary muscle and joint strain. On the other hand, proper posture will:
- Maintain proper bone and joint alignment so that muscles can be used correctly.
- Prevent headaches, backaches, muscular pain and spasms.
- Allow the muscles to be used more efficiently, letting the body do more while spending less energy.
- Keeps the spine from shifting into unusual positions.
- Lowers the stress on muscles and ligaments, especially around the joints of the spine that hold it together.
- Puts less stress on joint surfaces, and reduces the chance of developing arthritis.
- Decreases overuse or strain problems.
- Make you look strong and confident.
Stretching Routine to Get Rid of Poor Posture in Elderly
In our day-to-day life, there are many activities that can wreak havoc on our body. Whether it be doing daily home chores, sitting for long periods of time, lifting, carrying, or bending down, these can all cause pain if done improperly. Many people are simply not aware of posture and how it affects their body.
Doing some basic stretches can help you overcome many of these pitfalls. Stretching not only improves flexibility, but also lowers stress and tension so that you can accomplish tasks safely without fear of discomfort or injury. We recommend performing the exercises taught in this article. All of the stretches should be performed until you feel a slight tug on the muscle, but not so much that you feel pain.
Hold the position until you feel the muscles start to relax. Then as your muscles acclimate to the tension, you can stretch just a bit further until you feel a slight tug once again. Keep repeating this process of stretching, then allowing the muscle to relax and lengthen, and then stretching further until you reach your limit.
Stretching should be something you do daily. These exercises can be done any time and do not require any equipment or special clothing. You can even do them while watching television. Even just doing a few minutes of stretching can cause you to feel benefits for hours.
Exercises to Get Rid of Poor Posture in Elderly
For middle-aged adults and seniors who wish to stay independent and healthy, there are four types of exercises recommended by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
- Strength Exercises: These help you develop bigger and stronger muscles which increase your metabolism and is beneficial for maintaining a healthy body weight and normal blood sugar levels.
- Stretching Exercises: These can provide you with more range of motion and flexibility, allowing you to remain active even in your golden years.
- Endurance Exercises: Any activity that increases your heart rate, such as walking, running, biking, swimming, or jogging can train your endurance. Starting out, you may feel winded quite quickly. However, over time you can build up your stamina. A good starting point is with five minutes of endurance activities, gradually ramping up the time as you improve.
- Balance Exercises: These help develop your leg and core muscles, which are important to prevent falls. Many seniors suffer from broken hips each year, and the cause of this injury is almost always due to falling. As a senior, balance exercises are more crucial than ever to avoid problems in the near future. Balance training can prevent any debilitating injuries from even occurring.
Exercise is a necessary part of improving one’s posture because most bad posture habits are developed due to a sedentary lifestyle. Furthermore, having strong muscles will help you maintain good posture for longer periods of time before slouching due to fatigue. In addition, exercise has numerous health benefits beyond improving poor posture in elderly.
Why Should Older Adults Exercise?
There is always time to improve your health, and exercise is the way to do it. Even though we all know that exercise is good for one’s health, for some reason people start doing it less and less as they get older. They complain that they aren’t as strong as they used to be, or as fast, or have as much stamina. That they are tired or that they aren’t trying to impress anyone anymore. But that is all irrelevant when it comes to health benefits.
Today, research has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that exercise is beneficial for people of any age and physical condition. If one were to stay active by regularly exercising, they will be least likely to develop disabilities and diseases in their advanced years. Even light exercise can help seniors who are frail or who have diseases that come with old age.
What’s Holding them Back?
Not everybody likes to exercise, and some seniors don’t want to exercise because they’ve never done it before or are simply lazy. However, some have legitimate concerns, such as fear of suffering an injury or physical disabilities that make it hard for them to move.
But, research has shown that exercise is safe for everyone, and that not exercising is probably doing more harm to one’s health than exercising. A sedentary lifestyle can make it harder for seniors to stay independent and healthy because they lack balance, strength, endurance, and flexibility.
Is It Too Late to Start?
If you never had an active lifestyle, don’t worry. You can start improving your health with exercise even now. Research has shown that you can still improve your balance, strength, endurance, and flexibility.
Aging does not mean you should lose the capability to perform everyday tasks. Exercise will improve poor posture in elderly people, but it can also help seniors enjoy life and feel better about themselves no matter what shape they are in.