An extremely hunched posture, or hyperkyphosis, affects up to two-thirds of senior women and half of senior men. This posture has been associated with back pain, weakness, and trouble breathing. It can also limit everyday activities, like brushing your hair and dressing yourself.
Salem and other researchers have been studying the possible health benefits of yoga, particularly for older adults. Yoga is a mind and body practice that typically combines physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation or relaxation. In one study, older adults with hyperkyphosis showed significant improvement and less rounded shoulders after a 6-month yoga program.
“More people are participating in yoga,” Salem says. “We’re using innovative tools—like motion analysis with high-speed cameras and platforms that measure force—to understand what yoga is actually doing and how it’s targeting the biological processes of our body.” Ultimately, Salem says these findings will help therapists and yoga instruct-ors design programs that are safe and effective for older adults. The team also plans to study other age groups and people with disabilities.
It’s never too early or late in life to work on improving your posture and how you move.
“One way to improve your posture is to be aware of it in the first place,” Zampieri says. “It’s important to take a look at your posture before it becomes a problem. Yoga, tai chi, and other types of classes that focus on body awareness and mindfulness can help you learn to feel what’s wrong in your own posture. They also help you connect your physical posture with your emotional state, offering benefits in both areas.”
Classes aren’t the only way to improve your posture. “Be mindful of your posture and how you’re moving,” Salem says. “Think about lifting your head, pulling your shoulders back, and tightening your abdominal muscles in everyday situations.” Be aware of repetitive postures, like regularly lifting heavy objects, and holding positions for a long time, like sitting at a computer all day at work.
“If you spend a lot of time in front of a computer, make sure you have a good setup,” says NIH physical therapist Dr. Jesse Matsubara. “It’s important that your workstation fits you the best it can. You should also switch sitting positions often, take brief walks around the office, and gently stretch your muscles every so often to help relieve muscle tension.”
The foundation of good posture is having a body that can support it. This means having strong abdominal and back muscles, flexibility, and a balanced body over your life. Another way to improve posture is to lose weight, especially around your gut. More than 2 out of 3 Americans are either overweight or obese. Extra weight weakens your abdominal muscles, causes problems for your pelvis and spine, and contributes to low back pain.
“It’s easy to develop suboptimal movement patterns after an injury or from years of pain,” Salem explains, “but people can learn to distribute their weight evenly and balance their bodies again.”
It’s important to work with a doctor to find the types of physical activity that can help you maintain your health and mobility. Talk to your health care providers if you feel pain, have an injury, or have had surgery. They can give you feedback on how you’re moving, help you avoid unhealthy movement patterns, and work with you to create a plan that’s best for you.