There’s one thing that gives away your age more than anything else. No, it’s not wrinkles, greying hair, turkey neck or crepey hands. It’s your posture.
As we age, the thoracic spine (or upper back) starts to round. This can lead to kyphosis, an excessive curve in the spine that affects up to 40% of elderly adults.
If you think you’re too young for a dowager’s hump, think again. I predict a kyphosis epidemic in Generation X — the first generation to spend hours hunched over smartphones, reading on tablets, working on laptops and staring at Netflix. Poor posture from all that slumping and slouching around will only exacerbate with age.
Kyphosis can cause joint pain, restricted movement, breathing problems and an increased risk of falls. There are many causes, including arthritis, osteoporosis slipped discs, scoliosis and muscle weakness, but you there are ways to help keep your spine flexible and pain-free.
The best thing you can do to avoid a stiff, rounded spine is to get your body moving. Walk, run, jump, stretch… just get up and move! This yoga sequence will also help your spine to curve in all the right places.
1. Cow-face arm pose works deeply into the shoulder joints as well as targeting the chest and upper back muscles.
Sit in a comfortable position and raise your right arm in the air. Bend your right elbow and drop the hand down your back. Reach around with your left hand and see if you can touch hands. Struggling to reach? Grab a strap (a tie or sock will do) and hold it taut between the hands to encourage the stretch. Keep your head in a neutral position and stay here for several breaths. Notice how your body moves as you breathe. Repeat on the other side.
2. Good old downward-facing dog, it really is a cure-all pose. Back tightness is never isolated — everything is connected — so stretching out the back of the body, from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head, helps to keep everything supple.
The traction you get from pushing into your hands and feet lengthens the spine, while gravity relieves the downward pressure we experience when upright and gently realigns vertebra. It’s weight-bearing, too; perfect for warding off osteoporosis.
Come onto all fours and place your hands on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Turn your toes under and lift the hips as high as you can. Draw navel to spine, relax your neck and look between the feet. Keep pressing into the hands. Stay here for several breaths. If this is too intense, do a ‘mini dog’ with your knees on the floor.
3. To keep your spine healthy, backbends are key. These variations of hero pose give the discs a good squeeze to keep them nice and squishy, and encourage a curve in the lumbar (lower) spine, which tends to lessen as we age.
Come into a kneeling position — if this is tricky, sit on a couple of books or blocks to raise your hips. Lengthen your spine and place the hands on the floor behind you. Press into your hands and lift the chest. Stay here for several breaths.
4. If you can sit here comfortably, put some cushions behind you and lower yourself onto them. Go slowly and breathe! If you have any back, knee or ankle issues, straighten out the legs and simply lie back on the cushions and enjoy the stretch.
So remember, you can use all the lotions and potions in the world, but a healthy spine is the real elixir of youth.