You can take years off your appearance and ease pain in your muscles and joints without expensive surgery cosmetics or even highly demanding exercise routines.
All you need to do is spend a few minutes a day focusing on one of the most important—and neglected—aspects of a youthful appearance and an optimally functioning body...posture.
Think of your body as if it were a stack of building blocks. If the blocks are lined up unevenly, the structure is weak and is more likely to collapse. If they're carefully lined up one on top of the other the structure is strong.
When the body is misaligned, it fails to function as efficiently as possible. Bad posture contributes to arthritis, muscle pain and injuries. These aches and pains cause us to avoid activities that we once enjoyed.
What went wrong? Modern society has evolved in such a way that we're no longer required to move as much during our day-to-day activities. And when we do move, we do so in the same repetitive ways, not utilizing all of our muscles or our full range of motion. Certain muscles get strong while others get weak—and we lose correct alignment.
By performing the following simple exercises to correct and maintain posture, you can begin to achieve maximum physical function as you age. The following four exercises strengthen and stretch unique muscles in the body that hold us upright and stabilize us—muscles that usually aren't worked by standard aerobic and strength-training exercises.
Ideally, this alignment program should be practiced at least every other day as an adjunct to your usual aerobic, stretching and strength-training regimen.
Although it can take weeks to change posture, you will feel a difference in your alignment after doing the exercises only once.
Purpose: Stretches and aligns the groin muscles. Over time, it will align your hips and allow your shoulders and back to return to a more anatomically correct position.
What you need: A chair, coffee table or ottoman that is the right height so that when you lie on the floor on your back, one leg can rest on top of the object and form an approximate 90-degree angle.
What to do: Lie on your back, bend your right leg and place it on top of your "platform." Your right calf muscle should be resting on the platform. Stretch your right leg straight out on the floor, toes pointed toward the ceiling. Place your arms out to the sides, palms up. Rest in this pose for five minutes, allowing gravity to do the work, relaxing the body and letting the muscles stretch. Repeat with your right leg.
Purpose: Counteracts the tendency to hunch and roll shoulders forward.
What you need: A table, desk, counter or back of a chair.
What to do: Stand a few feet from the table, with feet hip-width apart and pointing straight ahead. Lean forward and rest your hands, palms down, on the table so that your legs and torso form a 9O-degree angle. Relax. Let your head fall forward between your shoulders, and let gravity do the work. Hold for one to two minutes.
CATS AND DOGS
Purpose: Increases flexibility and movement in the pelvis and lower back.
What you need: A carpet, exercise mat or other comfortable floor surface.
What to do: Get on your hands and knees so that your back forms a small table. Place your hands directly below your shoulders, fingers pointing forward. Knees should be in line with your hips. Exhale and slowly arch your back upward like a cat, pressing your chin toward your chest. Hold for five seconds.
Then arch in the opposite direction (the way dogs do when they stretch), pulling your head and neck upward and your upper and lower back downward and lifting your buttocks into the air. Hold for five seconds. Smoothly transition from "cat" to "dog" for 10 complete cycles.
FACE THE WALL
Purpose: Stretches and aligns the muscles of the chest, shoulders and pelvis
What you need: A wall.
What to do: Stand facing the wall with feet hip-width apart, toes turned inward and touching (pigeon-toed). Your chest and nose almost touch the wall.
Lift your arms straight above your head, shoulder-width apart. Place the backs of your hands on the wall. Hold for one minute, eventually working up to three minutes. You will feel a stretch in your pelvis and shoulders.
At first you only may be able to reach the wall with the sides of your hands. As your muscles align and stretch, you will be able to work up to reaching the wall with the backs of your hands.
Helpful: This may be uncomfortable at first, but after a minute your shoulders will begin to relax.
10 Quick Energy Boosters
Three-quarters of the people I meet complain of tiredness during the day. This epidemic of exhaustion is brought about by mental and physical stress, including too much caffeine and sugar as well as too little sleep and exercise.
Here are easy ways to feel more alert and energetic…
- Stop hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock in the morning. Your brain goes through periods of light and heavy sleep. Falling back to sleep for just five more minutes can cut short a new sleep cycle, leaving you groggier when you do arise.
Better: Set your clock for when you really have to get up. Open your shades right away, and get as much light as possible—bright light wakes you up and invigorates you. Raise your heartbeat for at least five minutes in the morning by running in place or doing sit-ups, push-ups or jumping jacks.
- Eat a power breakfast. It will energize you as you start the day. My favorite power breakfast: Mix low-fat plain yogurt and one-half cup of old-fashioned raw oatmeal when you first get up. The yogurt will soften the oats while you shower and dress. Add a few chopped walnuts, one-half cup of pineapple or one-quarter cup of blueberries.
- Sit up straight. Bad posture can decrease your oxygen intake, and slouching exhausts your neck, shoulders and upper-back muscles.
- Correct posture for sitting: Your back should be aligned against the back of the chair, so that you can work without leaning forward. Your knees should be a bit higher than your hips. Keep both feet flat on the floor and your arms flexed at a 75- to 90-degree angle.
- Replace coffee with green tea. The rich taste of coffee and the mental alertness it imparts make coffee drinking a tough habit to break. But coffee raises stress hormones, and just a few cups a day creates an energy roller coaster that increases overall fatigue. I have found that people who have the most success giving up coffee switch to green tea. It contains one-third the amount of caffeine Q0 mgto 25 mg per six-ounce cup), so you get an energy boost without feeling irritable or experiencing a slump later on.
Bonus: Green tea is loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants.
If you have no intention of giving up your daily coffee, at least try cutting back to half regular/half decaf.
- Consume protein with meals. It helps your body absorb sugar at a slower rate, so your energy levels don't fluctuate so much during the day.
Examples: Fish, eggs, hummus, skinless poultry breast, lean red meat.
- Go for a 10-minute walk after lunch. It raises your metabolism and prevents you from falling into the familiar, post-meal "coma."
If it's inconvenient to go outside, try chair squats.
How to do that: With a chair behind you, stand with your feet positioned shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight and your chin up. Squat down, and push out your rear as if you were going to sit in the chair behind you. Just as your rear touches the chair, return to your starting position. Repeat five to 30 times—or until you feel your muscles have had enough.
- Take a short nap, no more than 25 minutes. Longer than that and you move into a deeper phase of sleep, which, if interrupted, can leave you groggier than before your nap. The optimal time to take a nap is eight hours after you wake up.
- Eat an energy snack, such as a banana or a handful of walnuts or almonds. Avoid commercial energy drinks and energy bars—they often work by introducing caffeine and/or sugar into your system.
Helpful: I do recommend a caffeine-free, multivitamin energy powder that I use myself each day—Fatigued to Fantastic! from Enzymatic Therapy, available at health-food stores.
Cost: About $30 for a month's supply.
- Try peppermint. It boosts mood and motivation. Have a cup of peppermint tea, or dab peppermint oil (available at health-food stores) on your wrists.
- Breathe. We tend to hold our breath when we work intensely or are under stress-and this contributes to fatigue.
To practice energy-boosting breathing: Stand up straight with your arms at your sides. Inhale for two seconds as you raise your arms slowly over your head with your palms open. Continue lifting your arms until they are directly over your head with fingertips touching. Exhale for three seconds as you bring your arms down. Repeat 10 times.