Today we will look at exercises to improve posture in elderly and seniors. As you age, your posture tends to deteriorate. Fortunately, this can be prevented with correct exercises!
Posture is a thing most people don’t really think about in day to day life. Sure, most of us were told as children to stand up straight and not to slouch over but that’s about it.
Especially if you’ve never had significant posture problems, you haven’t likely paid much attention to your posture. But since you are reading this, I take it that you are having some issues or concerns with your posture right now.
Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place! In today’s post, we will look at what posture actually is, what affects it and the exercises you can do to improve it.
Posture is very important for the correct functioning of your muscles and joints. With bad posture, you will put yourself in a risk of back problems, joint issues, muscle imbalances, and chronic pain. Bad posture will also prevent you from performing strength training and many other activities correctly.
What is posture
Posture refers to the alignment of your skeletal and muscular systems. When you have good posture, your skeleton transfers loads optimally through the joints and the spine.
Even though the skeleton is very light, it’s extremely strong and durable relative to its weight. When everything is in alignment the skeletal structure can withstand incredible forces, especially when conditioned to them through an exercise like strength training.
The same goes for the shock absorbers of your body. These include the intervertebral discs, the synovial fluid, and cartilage in your joints and all the ligaments and tendons. When everything aligns perfectly, the force of a shock is distributed evenly and through several discs, joints and tissues.
When your posture is “bad” as in out of optimal alignment, these structures won’t work perfectly. When forces are applied to the bad posture, the risk of something giving out increases significantly. Also, the degradation of discs and joints can be faster and uneven.
This is because when the spine and joints are misaligned, they will not transfer force evenly, but instead they will focus the force unevenly. For example in the case of the lumbar disc, this might cause one side of the disc compress, while the other side bulges like an unevenly squeezed balloon. This can lead to a permanent disc bulge or herniation that can compress the sciatic nerve.
So as you can see, correct posture is very important for health and injury prevention, but what exactly is good posture? When people think about posture, they usually think about the back and the spine. Of course this is the most important part of posture but actually, the alignment of your pelvis, neck, and shoulders are just as important for a correct posture.
The correct position of the spine forms a slight letter S with a natural curve in the lumbar spine and in the thoracic spine. The spine can be either too straight or too curved when it’s out of posture. In seniors, it’s typical to have a hunched over upper back that is caused by the degradation of the thoracic disk as well a weak upper back musculature.
Another common problem is the overextended lumbar spine that is caused by weak glutes and tight hip flexors due to excessive sitting which many of us do in front of the laptop while working from home for example. If the only exercise you get during the day is moving your mouse arm, you can be sure your hip flexors are tight.
The correct position of the pelvis is connected to the posture of the spine. The body is a system where everything affects everything. If your pelvis is tilted forward (butt sticking back), it tends to exacerbate lower back overextension.
The combination of anterior tilt in the pelvis and overextended lower back is called lordosis. If your pelvis is tilted backward, this will force your lumbar spine to straighten too much, causing a swayback.
So the aim is to have a neutral pelvis. There is quite a bit of individual variability to what is neutral, so the important thing is to make sure all the muscles around your hips are strong and mobile.
The neck supports our head, which is rather heavy, so it’s no surprise that the most common posture issues with the necks is a forward tilt. The large muscles of the neck and upper back are responsible for keeping your head up high but many people neglect them in their training.
It’s also very common these days even in seniors to have a “screen neck” due to sitting too much in front of the laptop or smartphone screen with neck pushed forward (I’m doing this right now typing this…). The should be almost straight to optimally carry the weight of the head.
The shoulders should stay back when relaxed with a nice extended thoracic spine and open chest. In the vast majority of adults and seniors, the shoulders will be slouched forward with a rounded back and tight chest muscles.
This is once again the result of weak upper back musculature and mobility issues in the chest muscles and anterior shoulders. Having a proper posture in the upper back and the shoulder girdle is important for activities like golf and tennis. If you swing a tennis racquet with bad posture, you jeopardize your shoulder joint.
What affects posture
Now that we know what posture is, let’s talk a bit about what affects it. The first thing is the skeletal structure. This includes your individual dimensions that are dictated by your genes. Some people have genetic reasons for bad posture and this isn’t really something you can influence. You can try to improve the situation with physical therapy and in some cases surgery but you can’t really correct the underlying issues. A good example of this is severe scoliosis.
The second thing that affects your posture is the degradation of your skeletal structures. As you age the spinal discs and joints will deteriorate and wear out, causing postural changes. These are the type of postural changes you can’t significantly fix after they have happened but you can improve the symptoms and prevent further deterioration by keeping your posture as good as possible.
The third thing that affects posture is mobility. Mobility of the connective tissues and muscles around the spine and the joints affect your posture by exerting tension to the skeletal structures. In an optimal situation, the tension is evenly distributed over the joint or the spine but if there are significant muscle or mobility imbalances, the tension can easily pull you out of a good posture.
The fourth thing that affects posture is muscle strength and mass. To keep a good posture is an active effort. When you stand, walk, run or do anything else than lie down, your muscles have to actively contract to keep you from slouching and to pull your body straight. If you have weak or overactive muscle groups, this can cause uneven tension, just like mobility issues. Mobility issues and muscle strength is usually connected so that you have tight and strong muscles on one side and weak and mobile muscles on one side.
The fifth thing that affects posture is body weight. Lighter body weight is simply easier for your muscles to keep in good posture. If you are significantly overweight, the added fat mass will affect your posture by once again creating uneven tension and weight distribution. Fortunately, nature has taken this into consideration and fat tends to store in places where it affects our posture the least.
How to improve posture
So what can you do to improve posture? Well, as we established a moment ago, our posture depends on our genes, the condition of our connective tissues and skeleton and the mobility and strength of our muscles.
Out of those, we can’t improve our genes and there is not much you can do to established degradation of skeletal structures. But there is plenty you can do to the mobility and strength of your muscles.
Strength training with full range of motion movement and mobility work is all that is needed to improve your posture. This is because in most healthy people (without actual postural malformations) postural problems are caused by thigh, weak and inactive muscles.
For example, weak glutes and tight hip flexors will tilt your pelvis forward, causing lordosis. The fix is not to try to keep your hips and pelvis in a correct position actively but to activate and strengthen your glutes while stretching and strengthening the hip flexors.
In most cases, there is no need to over-analyze what needs to be stretched and what strengthened. Usually, it’s best to improve mobility and strength in all muscle groups. Of course, if you have a clear problem like in the example above or your upper back is hunched over, it’s wise to focus more on stretching the tight side and strengthening the weaker side.
Lower back strength is important for lumbar spine stability but for our posture one of the most important muscle groups are the large muscles of the upper back.
The lats, rhomboids, traps and rear delts are the counterforce to your large and strong chest muscles. Your thoracic spine is held straight (in extension) by three erector spinae muscles and the Semispinalis and Multifidus.
In most people, these back muscles will be very weak but relatively mobile because they are stretched constantly while the chest muscles will be tight.
The solution is to strengthen the whole upper back while stretching the chest open. The best way to strengthen the upper back is to do pulling compound movement in different planes. Preferably ones that require a thoracic extension. Good examples of this are rows, pull-ups, and deadlifts.
You can find back strengthening exercises here.
Hips and the orientation of the pelvis is crucial for posture. One of the most common problems in seniors as well as in younger adults is inactive hips which basically refers to weak glutes and hamstrings.
The glutes and hamstrings are the largest and most powerful muscles of the human body, yet it’s possible to live your life without really using them properly.
This is because we can go through most of our lives sitting on our butts which makes the glutes inactive, the hip flexors tight and the pelvis out of posture.
To improve this dysfunction, you need to make all the muscles around the hips mobile (here are some hip stretches) and learn the correct way to use your hips by hinging at the hips to activate the glutes and the hamstrings. You then need to strengthen the glutes and the hamstrings to make them strong enough to pull the pelvis in the correct position.
The final piece of the puzzle for improving posture is to strengthen the core muscle. The core refers to the muscles around your midsection which include all the abdominal and lower back muscles as well as deep muscles around the spine, the diaphragm, and the pelvic floor.
To improve your core optimally for posture, you should perform full body exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges while actively bracing (flexing) your core.
You can find exercises for improving core muscles here.
Posture correctors are also useful tools for improving posture in seniors in conjuction with strength training. Check out my recommendation for the best posture corrector for seniors.
I hope you enjoyed these tips on how to improve posture in seniors and the elderly and will try the exercises yourself. Having a good posture is important for a pain-free and functional body.
The good thing about these exercises is that they will improve the strength of your whole body. Improving and maintaining your strength and muscle mass is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health as you age. The improved posture is just one of the benefits of strength training.
Strength training will allow you to remain functional and strong as you age it will also improve your bone health, balance, metabolism, cognition, independence, aging and heart health. The common belief that becoming a senior means you will automatically become frail and weak simply isn’t true.
If you are interested in strength training for seniors, please download my free beginner strength training program intended for seniors below and bookmark my site. See you next time!