Part two of a three part series on exercise shows how you can align your spine and restore healthy posture.
Last week we examined how exercise benefits your bones and identified the importance of consistency and enjoyment in your routine. You now understand why you need to move around and use your bones and muscles to strengthen them. Now let’s take a closer look at which exercises to perform.
We previously discussed the three methods of building bone tissue: weight bearing movement, resistance exercise and impact activities. But just engaging in these activities is not enough to facilitate ideal pulling and pushing forces on your skeleton to stimulate bone strengthening. Why not?
Avoid excess curvature – stay well aligned
Try this: hold a curved wooden stick upright and push down on the top. What happens? The curve increases and the stick bends further. Now try it with a straight stick. Notice how the force from your hand travels down through the opposite end of the stick and there’s virtually no shape change. Basically, the straight stick is able to absorb the load you added. While your spine has natural curves (which we want!), you don’t want excessive curves because this diminishes the ability of the good loading forces to travel through your spine, just as you saw with the stick example. The excessive curvature even increases the likelihood of load failure, as in a fracture.
This stick example holds true not only for your spine but for your entire skeleton. If your joints are not well aligned while standing, the forces you add from gravity or additional loads, like weights or resistance bands, will not transmit well through your body.
Start by ‘unloading’ your skeleton
The first step in bone loading and strengthening, and especially in a situation of osteoporosis and even more so if you have a history of a fracture, is to unload your skeleton. Notice how by the end of the day you’re more likely to slouch as your body may be fatigued and you’ve been sitting in a compromised position perhaps at a computer or having carried items? You can combat that change in posture by decompressing your joints, lying on your back with bent knees. Spend up to 10 minutes a day here and provide proper head support to avoid any neck strain.
Exercises to help realign your spine and restore posture
Try the following exercises* to begin realigning your spine and restoring healthy posture.
*NOTE: provided your health care practitioner has approved you to try these simple exercises, you may want to perform them on a mat.
Exercise 1: Shoulder Press – for improved posture and dccompressing the spine
Lie on your back with knees bent. Inhale with palms face up by your hips. Exhale and gently press your shoulders into the mat. Inhale and release and then exhale and press again. Repeat several times.
Exercise 2: Abdominal Press – for core stability and spinal alignment
Lie on your back with knees bent and inhale. As you exhale, drop your belly as if it’s moving away from the fabric of your pants while you zip them up. This alone may enable you to feel your abdominals work. But if you’d like more challenge, lift one leg at a time to create a 90 degree angle at the hips and knees. Inhale again, and as you exhale, draw the belly in and up more while you press your hands into your thighs to block them from moving toward your face. Keep the legs in the air and repeat the abdominal press (inhale, exhale and press) up to 10 times.
Exercise 3: Back Extension – for back and spine strengthening
Lie on your stomach with your forehead down, hands by your hips, palms face up. *If you’ve had a previous fracture or are concerned about your ribs, you may want to place a thin pillow under your ribs. Gently press your pubic bone into the mat. (Your pubic bone is the bony projection below your belly and above your genitals.) Lift your low belly slightly to activate your abdominal muscles. Float your head and hands off the mat just an inch or two while you continue to look downward. Do not look up as this will strain your neck. Hold the position several seconds before lowering. Repeat up to 10 times.
Exercise 4: Standing Rows – for weight-bearing and resistance training through entire skeleton
Stand up and tie a resistance band to a doorknob (close and lock the door for safety!) or use a cable machine at the gym. With knees slightly bent, hold the band ends in both hands and pull back from your elbows, squeezing your shoulders behind. Slowly release moving your arms forward again. Perform 10 times and breathe throughout. For additional challenge and hip strengthening, sit back each time your arms move forward.
Notice the change in your body. You may sense that your head stacks more easily over your trunk or that your chest is broader or that your back is more relaxed. You likely feel more at ease and able to stand taller.
The attention to detail in your body positioning affects how your muscles activate as well as how the external forces transmit through your skeleton. In part three of this series, we’ll discuss how balance, a major component of bone safety, is also affected by your posture and body positioning.
Meanwhile, see how these exercises make you feel stronger, more capable and ready to take the next step in your daily life.
This article, authored by Rebekah Rotstein, is the second of a three part series on exercise.