How fast can you slim down? Many doctors say you can safely lose a pound or two a week. Various websites throw out more ambitious claims: "lose 18 pounds in four days" or "28 pounds in three weeks."
There is one sure and safe method to look slimmer and feel better immediately, and that's to stand up straight.
James Emmett is a chiropractor and owner of the Centrum Chiropractic Clinic in Ottawa. Emmett says people who improve their posture see positive results, not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. "If we can teach them about body posture, that can have a widespread effect," he says. "Because they're carrying themselves better it takes tension off the whole body and everything starts to flow better."
Eventually, most of us will need to work on our posture. "Everybody goes through stresses in their life," Emmett says. "Family, work or just general physical body stresses all have a way of affecting posture."
Do a posture check
When was the last time you evaluated your posture? Emmett recommends the following self-check:
1. Take off your shoes and find a flat expanse of wall.
2. With your back to the wall, press your heels and bum against it.
3. Slide one of your hands between the wall and your low back.
The space should only be about the width of your hand, says Emmett. Anything much bigger and you know there's a problem with overcurvature.
Emmett says too much curve in the low back will pull your head forward and round your shoulders. This posture looks unattractive and can lead to a variety of physical strains and pains throughout the body.
Avoid posture pitfalls
We all do things at work, home or even while asleep that can be bad for our posture. Emmett says the following are some of the biggest culprits:
• At work: Sitting incorrectly, placing items like the phone and mouse beyond easy reach and straining to read a computer screen. These behaviours lead to hunched shoulders and tense muscles. Also, standing for long hours on a hard floor, as in a factory or on a sales floor, can cause hip and back pain.
Page 1 of 2 -- Discover how to improve your posture at home and while you sleep on page 2.
• At home: Holding the baby on one hip, folding endless loads of laundry, standing at a counter for long periods of time when cooking -- all these bring on muscle tension and can rotate our bodies in awkward positions, putting our posture out of whack.
• While asleep: Sleeping on your stomach is a no-no, causing neck and low back strain. Similarly, sleeping without proper support for your neck and hips can rotate your pelvis during the night, making it nearly impossible to stand properly once you wake up.
Take a break
While it's best to avoid the above pitfalls completely, Emmett says taking a 30-second break a few times a day can help significantly.
"Counter" breaks involve doing an exercise counter to the activity you're currently doing. "Stand up, bring your head back, bring your arms back, work the muscles of the back," Emmett says. "All of a sudden everything opens up and the concentration returns."
This is something we can learn from our kids. "All kids belly breathe," Emmett says. "Once you breathe through the belly as opposed to the chest, it relaxes everything and the low back, neck and shoulders release."
Create a posture program
There are many ways to improve your posture. Ask your doctor about appropriate exercises. You can also find exercises at sites like the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute.
If you need more help, a chiropractor can assess your posture, work with you in the clinic, assign exercises to do at home and track your progress over time. To find a chiropractor near you visit the website of the Canadian Chiropractic Association.
Improving your posture makes you feel better. Feeling good makes you carry yourself well. This positive cycle makes working on your body posture one of the best steps you can take to look and feel better, both immediately and for the long term.
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