Make sure to stand tall to help posture, prevent pain

TAKE a look at how you're sitting right now.

Is your back straight or stooped? Is your neck pushed forward? Are your hips and knees comfortable?

Knowing how to stand, walk and sit with our bodies in natural alignment can save us from pain, now and later.

It can reduce back ache, neck ache and wear and tear on muscles and joints.

It can make our daily tasks more effortless and it can keep our bodies in alignment even in old age.

"Modern life makes us stoop," says exercise physiologist Mark McKeon, author of Work A Little Less, Live a Little More (HarperCollins).

"We are constantly focused downwards. We know we should sit up straight and cast our eyes down, but it's much more natural for us to slouch down and literally stick our necks out to bring us closer to the screen, steering wheel, newspaper or dinner plate."

So how do you get good posture, especially when your muscles have become stuck in the positions that you practise day-in, day-out, when you sit still for hours at a desk, bend and twist doing chores, or slump in front of the television?

The truth is you may need to relearn how to move, to unlearn bad habits and, of course, we often need to retrain muscles - like those in our "core" - that will help us support our body.

While a personal trainer can help you with that, it's also possible to do it yourself.

Exercises such as yoga and Pilates focus on good posture.

Being more conscious of your body can also work wonders.

For example, it is very easy to walk, or to work, with your head sticking forward, without noticing you are doing it.

The result is that your whole body and posture has to compensate.

That's because you have 10% of your body weight sticking towards the screen.

So, periodically, remind yourself to pull your head in, literally.

Mark suggests this simple exercise: "Start by standing 10cm or so away from a wall.

"Now, without moving anything below your neck, try to press forward and touch your chin to the wall."

Complete the exercise by reversing the movement.

"Five times forward and five times backwards with a pause for a full second each time you stretch, all the way out and all the way back," says Mark.

This exercise will not only relieve neck tension but make you more aware of where you are holding your neck.

Many people also have shoulders that sit way too close to their ears - the shoulders are where they carry tension.

So, checking in regularly with yourself, and making sure you drop those shoulders, will soon pay results.

Another simple thing you can do to combat the temptation to stoop, says Mark, is to make yourself sit as tall as you can for five consecutive minutes.

"Try it now, even in the act of reading, and you will be stretching and strengthening your muscles.

"Feel free to stretch from side to side and twist from left to right a few times."

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The Hundreds

A simple exercise to try at home are "The Hundreds" so called because it consists of 10 breaths of 10 counts that add up to 100.

This exercise will strengthen the abdominal wall to help hold you up straight.

Lie on the floor, keeping your lumbar spine glued to it, and raise your straight legs up to about 45 degrees.

While holding your legs in the air, tuck your chin in and lift your head and your shoulder blades off the mat. Make sure that you are looking down at your stomach.

You then pump your (straight) arms by your side, up and down, doing five beats while inhaling slowly and five beats while exhaling slowly.

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