No I dont mean the road sign should go. Though it certainly should be rethought.
NO what I am concerned about is that image, that bent over couple. Why is that used as a symbol of old age?
In effect it is saying:
That when you are old you will be bent over.
That having a curved spine is normal for old people.
That a Bent Back on an older person is accepted. You get into your late 60s and almost expect it to happen!
It shouldn’t be.
The image is wrong, quite wrong. A spine usually bends over as the result of one of two reasons:
1. A Medical reason
Could be an illness, like osteoporosis, Parkinson’s or an injury or possibly a congenital deformity. And these affect only a limited no of people.
ie, It is not the result of normal ageing. Yes, the ageing process does lead to thinning of bone structures and changes in spinal discs. But of itself, that process does not cause the spine to curve over.
2. We are the cause of the curved spines of later years!
We did it to ourselves . In effect, we choose to have a bent back develop as we age! It didn’t have to happen. We let it, even unthinkingly encouraged it!
Yes, Posture….The villain is of course Gravity. By slumping we increase the effective weight of our heads!
If you were brought up by a strict Victorian governess you would be upright as a teen and stay upright til you were 80+ Look at Queen Mary.
You would never have been allowed to slump. The reminders went on all the time, a constant stream of “Sit up straights”, prods, having to stand walk and sit with a book on your head, for hours. Even being tied to a backboard!
Think about the women of countries where it is normal to carry a load on your head, or balance a jar of water. Their posture is superb.
Similarly if you were in the Army. Your Sergeant Major would sort you for life! And notice people who are trained dancers, models, actors, and those who do regular yoga. They retain upright postures and are highly unlikely to have bent backs in their later years.
Let’s have a look at why we have such an unnecessary problem.
First, our heads balance on top of our spinal column. The joints of the spine are normally beautifully flexible. They have in built curves but when we are upright, sitting or standing, we usually keep the curves in line, one on top of the other. All held in place by the long postural muscles of the spine and neck.
Even better, we have a set of reflexes,which automatically correct our stance for us …if we have kept them in good working order….
These are known as the head and body righting reflexes. They keep your head upright, eyes looking ahead. Originally presumably to best watch out for bears and tigers or holes.
To let your brain know whether you are upright you have your eyes to line you up with the vertical, little stones on threads swinging inside your ears tell you which way gravity is falling, and sensors in your spinal joints, ligaments and muscles which tell you about the tension gravity is putting on your spine and exactly where. As a result your brain makes sure your neck and spine muscles are constantly adjusting to keep your head upright and your body properly lined up underneath it.
Note that! They all work together to make sure your head and eyes are positioned then the body lines itself up and follows it.
You need to get that idea, because it is where things begin to go wrong.
(And note something else. I have not mentioned muscle strength. Providing they are in normal working order you do not need excessively strong muscles to keep a good posture. The gym is not the solution!)
To sum up then:
Posture is about these head body reflexes and your normal habits, not strength.
So what goes wrong? Well you know what I am going to say dont you?
Humans in todays world spend too many hours peering. Not for tigers, but at Twitter etc.
We have given up on Sergeant Majors, Posture in schools and Victorian Governesses.
Sculpting muscles, competitive sport, strength and stamina are the fashion.
But there isn’t a fashion for good posture is there? Except I am delighted to say amongst those who have got into Pilates and Yoga. And of course, Irish step dancing….
All of those people learn to “ feel” their head positions. They work on the feel of an ‘upright head” until it becomes automatic to sit, stand and walk with their heads erect. And most importantly they can recognise when they have slipped.
Now look what happens if you dont train yourself to recognise and correct!
Your poor old brain keeps trying to balance itself on top of your neck. And it does!
But because you can now see ahead as usual, you don’t realise what has happened to your neck……and the shoulder slump too.
Doesn’t take long for that to feel normal.
Fascinating as a physio, working with patients on a posture problem.
If you ask them to straighten their neck, pull their shoulders back, head up and tuck in their chin, they immediately say:
” That feels abnormal. As if I am falling backward!”
What has happened is this:
All those sensory endings and reflexes have started to give up.
They have learned to accept your choice of posture as the norm!
A new habitual posture has set in, one that feels normal and comfortable to you….
If you dont catch it quickly, the spinal vertebrae will have begun to change shape to match too! And then it is probably too late. You are stuck with a bent back, dowagers hump and that image comes true.
This should not be happening. Dowagers humps and bent older people are mostly preventable.
If you are in your middle years, maybe it is time to have a rethink. Use two mirrors to see yourself sideways. Count the hours bent over. Ask a friend to be honest!
You will have to relearn the feeling of your head being upright! Really!
The future: Getting rid of that image and the harm it does.
Will warnings like this help?
Will schools and parents bring back stern” Sit up straight” and Yoga.
Will employers see posture breaks and Pilates as essential to staff health?
Will you relearn to recognise your own good posture and correct for it every 10 mins until it is back to a normal habit?
Can we make walking and standing like HRH at 95 the fashion? Put him on the road signs?
Or maybe we should just have Competitive Posture Competitions?
Bent people are not OK. in today’s new version of old age.
If you are middle aged, better get to Pilates now!
Great post. Agree about the road sign, instead picture it as though the old lady is ‘goosing’ the old man .. 😉