Here’s a simple antiaging trick that will make you look and feel much younger (and costs nothing at all!)—stand straight and tall. Unfortunately, as you age and your muscles get weaker, this becomes more challenging. But fortunately, I have a solution for that—it comes from Joel Harper, a well-known personal trainer (Dr. Oz is a client) in New York City who has developed a posture-perfecting routine that builds strength all over your body, takes just 10 minutes a day and delivers a noticeable improvement in posture in just a few weeks.
Not sure whether you need it? Here’s a test… With your back against the wall, slide down to sit in an imaginary chair, legs bent, heels directly underneath your knees and thighs parallel to the floor. (If this makes you feel uncomfortable or unsteady, don’t try to slide down this far—you’ve already learned that you could benefit from Harper’s routine!) People with reasonably good posture can easily rest the back of their heads and shoulders against the wall in this “chair” position for one full minute…so if you can’t, you’ve got work to do.
When I spoke with Harper, he shared three pairs of stand-tall exercises for Daily Health News readers, noting that it is important to always begin each pair with the first exercise (as listed below) and then follow it with the move that stretches you—that will elongate your muscles and bring about lasting change. Do each of these three pairs in a row every other day for two weeks. These aren’t the easiest exercises in the world—but then, realistically, the easiest exercises in the world aren’t going to fix your posture! Of course, if there’s any chance that trying new exercises might not be safe for you, check these with your doctor first.
“Field Goals” to strengthen your shoulders. With your back against a wall, stand with feet together and raise your arms at your sides to make a “T.” Then bend your elbows and raise your forearms, forming a 90-degree angle with your palms facing forward and fingers spread. Now lower your hands to make your forearms horizontal—and repeat this last motion, both sides at the same time, 25 times. Resist moving your elbows. Keep your shoulders relaxed, not shrugged. You can add a balance component to this exercise by slightly lifting your heels as you do the arm movements and/or pump it up by adding three-pound hand weights.
“Chicken wing” to stretch your shoulders and upper back. Standing up straight with your stomach pulled in, put your left hand on your left hip, fingers behind you. Now reach your right hand in front of your body to grasp your left elbow and gently pull it toward your stomach. That’ll stretch the left side of your arm, upper back and shoulders. Hold where you feel the stretch and take five deep breaths…then switch sides and repeat. If one side is tighter than the other, repeat on that side, with the goal of eventually making both sides equal.
“Rickety Table” strengthens the back, arms and glutes. Get down on all fours on a padded surface, with your fingers spread apart, making sure your hands are in line with your shoulders and your knees with your hips. Keep your back flat and parallel to the floor. With your left arm slightly bent (so you work the muscle, not the joint), reach your right arm straight forward and your left foot straight back, stretching them as far away from each other as possible, aiming to keep your right hand one inch higher than your head. Hold for 25 seconds. Work up to that amount of time if you can’t do it at first. Or, if this move feels too easy, then simultaneously lower your right hand and left foot (big toe) to tap them on the floor and then raise them back to horizontal position. Repeat this 25 times, then switch sides. An even more advanced version is to tap your elbow to the opposite knee (instead of tapping your hand and foot on the ground) and then return to parallel position after each tap.
“Elbow circling” releases tension and stretches muscles in your shoulders and neck. You can do this either sitting or standing. Put your right fingertips on top of your right shoulder and your left fingertips on top of your left shoulder and then touch your elbows together in front of you. Keeping your fingers where they are and looking straight ahead, make large circles toward the outside of your body with each elbow simultaneously. Inhale on one circle on a count of five and exhale on the next count of five. Do six circles in that direction, and then do six in the opposite direction. This is great to do if you sit at a desk all day.
“Side-lying kick” strengthens the oblique (side) abdominal and leg muscles. Lie on the ground on your left side, stretching your left arm above your head so that your left ear rests on your arm. Keeping your stomach taut and resisting rocking, bend your left knee to a 45° angle with your heel in line with your spine. Lift your right (straight) leg three-feet directly above your left foot…then tap your right knee lightly on the ground in front of your waist. Then lift your leg back up, straighten it and kick three feet in the air above your left foot (or as high as you can). Do this sequence 25 times and then switch sides.
“Airplane stretch” for the hips and legs. While seated on a straight-backed chair or stool, put the right side of your right foot onto your left knee. Rest your right elbow on top of your right knee and your right hand on your right ankle. While keeping your back straight, gently lean forward. Look straight ahead. You can increase the stretch by using your left hand to gently turn the sole of your right foot to face up. Hold for 30 seconds, taking deep breaths. Switch sides and repeat. If you find that one side of your body is tighter than the other, then you should repeat on that particular side in order to create balance.
Harper asked me to share one more bit of advice. He said that an easy way to keep your posture picture-perfect is to always try to keep your gaze straight ahead: “It’s almost impossible to have bad posture if you keep your eyes at eye level.” It’s a simple trick I’ll be keeping in mind as I go about my day, looking and feeling great! I hope you will, too.
Source: Joel Harper, personal trainer, has designed custom workouts for celebrities and Olympic medalists, and is the creator of the PBS DVD, Firming Up After 50. He is based in New York City. www.JoelHarperFitness.com