POSTURE! An Old School Habit We're Bringing Back

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Were you ever yelled at as a child to have good posture at the dinner table?

Or at your desk in school? While it hasn’t fallen off everyone’s radar, posture is certainly not an emphasized issue. Gone are the days of being chastised for not sitting up straight.

But is posture really that important?

Yes, it turns out. Poor posture in children is the greatest predictor of postural issues later in adulthood, manifesting as pain in the head, neck, back, hips and knees (Widhe, 2001). Poor posture is also compounding, meaning that if one link in the chain is out of alignment, the other links have to compensate for that displaced weight. This is why people with a kyphotic posture (a forward curving spine) have forward head posture, and those with forward head posture have kyphosis of the spine. In effect, postural issues and pain radiate throughout the body.

Just to further emphasize my point, I’ll list even more complications of bad posture here:

  • Muscle fatigue and tightness
  • Breathing limitations
  • Arthritic joints
  • Blood vessel and nerve constriction
  • Digestive problems

Beyond just physical issues, posture is known to play a significant role in mental health. Poor posture was found to negatively impact a person’s motivation and their ability stay on task under stress (Gotay & Riskind, 1982). The same study also found that posture is an important visual cue in indicating health, both physical and mental. Not too hard to imagine, right? Those with poor posture were more often reported as appearing stressed out, depressed, or leading unhealthy lifestyles.

Why kids born in the 2000’s need posture more than any other generation.

More so than at any other point in human history, we are spending a great deal of time sitting down. For most of us, it’s part of work and school and is more or less unavoidable. However, our kids are also looking at smaller screens - mobile phones, tablets, and laptops - in addition to traditional desktop monitors and TVs. Because of their size, they are usually held in the lap or at the chest, requiring a forward head posture and tucked neck to see the screen. It has become such a commonly perscribed medical condition that it has it’s own name… introducing “text neck”.

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Why camp is the perfect place to correct posture.

This past summer, an underlying theme the staff actively promoted (in particular counselor Alex Kvanli, who led strength training, fitness, and many of our sports activities) was healthy posture. Just ask your son about it! It was not uncommon to hear someone shout “POSTURE!” in the Mess Hall at a meal, to which everyone would immediately sit up straight. But why is Camp Voyageur of all places such an ideal location to work on posture?

Perhaps you’ve noticed, but there’s a convenient lack of back support at camp. We sit on benches without backs, stools, logs, stumps, or the ground. The few chairs that do have back support have earned names, such as “the throne” at the Fire Circle. That’s right. There’s so little back support that we’ve named these luxurious things called chairs.

This presents the perfect opportunity to correct posture, as sitting up straight without back support engages postural muscles. Simplifying things a bit, it becomes a matter of teaching your body to remember what good posture feels like and to hold that position. On average, it takes about 15 minutes of maintaining a posture for it to become “locked” so to speak - not a terrible amount of time, but try sitting the same way for 15 minutes… it’s not so easy.

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So what exactly does good posture look like?

We’ve all probably seen these idealistic images of humans sitting perfectly upright, 90 degree angles at the hips and knees, etc. Is this good posture? Sure, but it is not the ONLY kind of good posture you can have.

What’s important for seated posture is that we “hinge at the hips” so to speak. Avoid letting your upper back round forward and do not let your head fall forward too much. You’d be surprised how much just a slight forward-head posture strains your neck and back. That thing weighs a lot!

Beyond that, your ideal seated posture may vary quite often, even from minute to minute. Leaning back in your chair? Fine, but you shouldn’t be craning your neck forward to see your computer or phone, and don’t let your upper back round! Laying down in bed while reading your phone? Be sure to hold your phone out in such a way that your chin isn’t tucked! Note that too much screen time can damage your child’s brain.

But having good posture doesn’t just mean sitting properly. Sitting itself is part of the problem. When we sit for excessive periods of time, we shorten some muscle groups (your anterior chain) and weaken others (your posterior chain). We more generally lose hip mobility, which in turn places more strain on our lumber spine to hold our torso upright.

Reaching an objective, unbiased conclusion…

Surprise surprise, we’re healthiest when we’re doing what our bodies were made to do: being active, athletic, and flexible. Fortunately, it would be very difficult to live a sedentary lifestyle at Camp Voyageur, even if you were an extremely stubborn individual. By the time campers have woken up, gone to breakfast, and headed back to their cabins, they’ve walked at least half a mile. Add three activity periods per day into the mix, almost all of which involve being physically active, and our campers actually look forward to getting to bed early. No, you read correctly: they want to go to bed early. Just as long as they don’t fall asleep without a pillow supporting their heads!

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