Walking & sitting tall

Stand up straight isn’t just a tall order for kids.

It’s for grown-ups, too.

Seniors who slouch may be setting themselves up for a pain in the neck or shoulders. The habit can even cause discomfort in the chest area.

“We were made to stand erect,” said Karen Walters Smilnak, a physical therapist at UPMC Altoona.

She said physical therapists continually monitor their patients’ posture and encourage them to be conscious of their seated and standing positions.

“We watch them all the time, especially neck patients,” she said. “We watch the way people walk and how they sit down.”

Smilnak said people tend to round their shoulders and move their head ahead of their back when working on a computer, watching TV, working at a desk or driving. She said hobbies, such as sewing and knitting, can play into poor posture.

When a person is hunched over, it makes it harder for the lungs to expand and affects the muscles in the back and shoulders, she said.

Smilnak said a good way to avoid slouching is to sit back in a chair or even in a car with the shoulder blades touching the back of the seat. The lumbar system built into the desk chair or car seat helps to keep the back erect if a person sits in it properly.

Standing up straight is harder as people get older, because the body gets weaker.

And while good posture may not cure all the aches and pains, it may reduce neck and back problems, Smilnak said. It can also help with breathing because it is harder for the lungs to expand when the body is hunched over, she said.

An effort to be more conscious of one’s posture may help.

When sitting for long periods of time, Smilnak recommends taking a break at least every hour.

Some tips for improving posture include trying to squeeze the shoulder blades together as a reminder to keep the shoulders straight.

Another exercise and a good test for proper posture is to stand with your heels against a wall and make your hips, shoulders and head touch it, too. Do that for 15 seconds and work up to 30 seconds and longer, Smilnak recommended. Doing the exercise several times a day will make a person more conscious of his or her posture and can help to improve it.

Dr. Brett Dongell of Dongell Chiropractic, 721 Pleasant Valley Blvd., said the outward or visual sign of posture problems can be seen in a person who is hunched over, but it is also affecting the body internally. He said poor posture puts pressure on the spine, the nerve center, and can affect other parts of the body.

He said exercises and especially stretches overtime can work the spine in the direction it needs to go, but it may never totally be restored.

Effects of a health issue, such as arthritis, are not going away, he said.

However, Dongell said seniors and everyone, regardless of age, can benefit from practicing proper posture.