Wednesday, March 3, 2010

You are getting shorter and what to do about it.

The men in the image above are the same age and were the same height in their twenties.

As we age we lose height. There are several causes. One can be demineralization through osteoporosis. The skeletal mass becomes less dense and you become less tall. Also as you age, the disks in your spine are less moist and degenerate a bit. The final cause is the one we will address however, and it is posture.

A change in posture as you age is a profound cause of loss of height. Most people simply feel that loss of height is inevitable with age and point out how their parents or grandparents are so much shorter. The truth is, bad posture, is now a young person's issue and can be change through a proactive plan of exercise.

There are two to three key areas where posture changes and causes you to shrink. The first is your stance. The way you place your feet or how far apart they are will add or subtract to your height. People tend to stand with their feet placed further apart as they gain weight. A broader base is more stable than a narrow one and an increase in weight will make you feel unstable. The key here is to stay lean and mobile. Taking a narrower stance is easy, especially if you are not overweight to begin with.

The second area is the mid back. This is the thoracic or "T" spine. The is like an virus that has spread throughout the world. The use of computers like the one I am using now, and extended commuting in cars, has produced a race of humans with a hunched, shortened, posture. When the upper back begins to round, the head adjusts by tipping up. This is unnatural. The forward flexion of the torso also limits reaching overhead properly which diminishes those muscles range of motion and strength.

The third area of is the hip flexors. These are muscles in front of the hip that lift the leg up when you are climbing steps. Constant sitting and lack of squatting cause these muscles to shorten and you actually begin to bend a bit as you stand. Of course a large pot belly can also contribute to this postural defect.

The question is, "How can I get my height back?" The answer is actually simple. You undo the action that shortened it in the first place. This takes some of the most fundamental movements that humans used to do daily. Pulling, Pushing, and Squatting are all that is needed. Here are some examples of exercises that require little equipment and can add considerable height to your stressed out frame.

The first exercise is the Overhead Press. It requires some dumbbells that can be acquired cheaply. Simply hold the 'bells at shoulder height and press overhead. You need to brace your body by tightening your abdominals and buttocks to support the torso. Your arms should lock out fully with your biceps near your ears. Do not believe in the '80's fitness myth of keeping the arms unlocked to maintain tension on the muscle. Those joints need loading to keep them healthy and a full range of motion is necessary to build posture. If you find your flexibility is limited, lift the dumbbells overhead and take a short walk. This will force you to be efficient and keep your armpit muscles tight, arms locked, and torso upright. Focus on low repetitions of multiple sets to build strength and slowly increase your muscle's range of motion to correct postural issues. This exercise goes a long way to restore your thoracic spine to it's youthful condition.

The second exercise is the Goblet Squat. It's quite simple. Hold a dumbbell with two hands like a Goblet. Keep the feet shoulder width or slightly wider, with the toes pointed slightly out. Squat down while sitting BACK. Imagine the lower legs are stuck in cement and endeavor to sit back like sitting on a toilet seat. Allow yourself to sink as low as possible and for the torso to fall between the thighs. At the bottom of the squat, use your elbows to push your knees out. The heels should be flat and you should be pushing out with your thighs. After pausing for a short stretch, come erect and tighten your buttocks enough to feel the stretch on the front of your hips. This is the hip flexor stretching. By tightening your gluteus, you allow the flexors to relax and eliminate residue tension in this area. Repeat this process for several low repetition sets. It could be one of the most important exercises you do.

The last exercise is use of the chinning bar. I say "use" since there are several drills for you to do here. The first one would be chinning. Chin ups and pull ups are critical drills to strengthen the upper body. Many cannot do them. Let me give you a technical hint. If you cannot do pull ups or chin ups, there are only two reasons for it. You are either too weak or too fat. Focused efforts with a good trainer will get you there.

The other drills require less strength, but just as much focus. They are decompression drills for the spine. They focus on using muscle of the hips, torso, and shoulder girdle to activate the spine and keep it healthy. Let's run through the drills now.
1. The first drill is to hang with a pronated grip and keep the armpit muscles tight to protect your shoulder's integrity. Now tighten the muscles that start the pull up motion and pinch your shoulder blades together forcing your chest to tip towards the ceiling. It's OK to look up at the ceiling. Relax your back muscles and bring your chest and line of sight back to level. You should feel some stretching on the front of your shoulders. The idea here is to strengthen the muscle that hold the shoulder girdle down and back and to stretch the muscle on the upper chest and front of the shoulders. Repeat about 8 times.
2. Now move down to the hips. Hang with your armpits tight once again. Start to tip your belly button to the sky while bringing the knees up to the chest. Hold for a count and lower your legs while contracting your buttocks and lower back to stretch the front of the hips and abdominal muscles. Once again do this 8 times.
3. The next move is two parts. It involves mild twisting. The first one is to move the torso left and right by subtle movements of the arms. Do not bend the arms but begin the motion of twisting in the shoulders. Lead with the head by looking left and looking right. This is a very slight, but powerful action. Repeat 8 times on each side. The second part is to use the lower body in a scissoring action to activate a mild twisting of the hip region. Move your right leg slightly over your left leg and vice versa. There is no need for violent twisting. Subtle controlled movements are much more effective. This movement can also be done 8 times per side.
4. The last action is to swing the lower body side to side like a pendulum. The muscles on the sides of the waist assist the latissimus muscles in this action. Begin with mild motions before increasing amplitude. 8 times per side is recommended.

The above drills, pressing, squatting, and pulling, will go a long way towards restoring, maintaining, and developing a healthy posture. Of course adequate protein, calcium, and Vitamin D, along with weight control are also part of the big picture. After several weeks on this program, many people will be shocked about your change in appearance.



1 comment:

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