The human body was built for “hunting and gathering”, not “hunt-and-peck” typing. Our DNA and our evolution is built on movement. However, we now have invented a work form that is virtually movement-free: the modern office. Instead of walking, foraging and farming, we now sit all day, with tense fingers poised over keyboards, and our eyes straining to read back-lit images. By the end of the day, our shoulders are up around our ears, our necks are craned forward, and our noses are almost touching our screens. Our legs are folded like a card table, and our arms and wrists are stiff from their tense day of hovering over the mouse or keyboard.
To make matters worse, we have none of the usual animal signals of the passage of time. We don’t get winded, so we don’t take time out to catch our breath. We don’t need the sun (and many of us do not have outside windows at work) so don’t get the signals of increasing amounts of daylight to help wake us up. And we are not hiking over great distances, nor carrying loads on our frame, so we don’t have to think about good posture. In fact after years of hunching over our computers at work, our spines become curved like a “question mark” when viewed from the side.
A shipwreck’s anchor chain crusted in coral quickly fuses into its last position. The same thing can happen to the human spine. If movement is denied, and if the spine is left to compress itself into the distortions of modern desk work, then old age will surely be a postural challenge. We often note that our elderly tend to have a curved spine, or “postural kyphosis”. However, it should be noted that this is very rare among dancers, or devotees of Pilates, Yoga, or the Martial arts.
The reason is simple. If we only exercise the muscles on the front of our chest and neck, then we draw our body closer to the screen in the classic “hunchback” mode.
To recap, consider the following points to help you fight the office hunch, and keep your posture forever young:
1.Set a timer. Every fifteen minutes or so, set a timer, or have your computer screen alert you to take a quick few moments to stretch, roll the neck and shoulders, and to squeeze the shoulder blades together. Try a few phantom rowing movements as well, then plunge back to your work.
2.Set your ergonomics. Make sure you have a screen height that approximates your eye-level when you are sitting up straight. Don’t use a laptop down on your knees (at least not for long), and make sure you have a separate keyboard down at a comfortable level so the forearms are parallel to the ground. Lastly, have a decent chair, which can be adjusted in several dimensions to fit your comfort level.
3.Use the reverse muscles in the gym. Back exercises like the lat pull-downs, upright rowing, as well as certain yoga poses will help reverse the forward drift of the pectoral and neck muscles as they draw your face into the screen all day. A professional trainer can assist with proper programs here, as well as with the use of such aids as the foam roller. The latter is basically a Styrofoam version of a three-foot long cigarette, with about a 4-6 inch diameter. Lie on the floor with this tube along the length of your spine, from the back of your head to your tailbone. Balance with your legs. Then use your arms to hoist light weights in a “bench press” or “butterfly” move, for three sets of ten or more repetitions. Take deep breaths with each movement, and you may notice some “cracking” noises coming from your upper spine. This is a great technique to “open” up the disc spaces, and fight against the forward compression that we associate with age.
4.When you walk, look ahead, not at your feet. Remember to stand tall, and frequently pull your shoulder blades together to tone up these muscles. Also swing your arms normally as you walk, don't have your shoulders seized and arms stiff. The military has always taught posture from the beginning of any soldier’s training; not for simple appearances, but for function (if soldiers had to carry heavy packs and march miles into battle, they would all arrive with stiff backaches if they slouched the whole way). When your body posture becomes part of your muscle memory, you are on the way to a youthful aging process.
For further reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyphosis