Good posture and health

VISITING Bali recently, my friends and I noticed some women balancing wicker baskets on their heads. They walked confidently in their baju kebaya along the soft road shoulder. We marvelled at their poise and apparent good health.

A day after we came home, while at the traffic lights I noticed a woman carrying a large plastic bag unsupported on her head as she walked along the road. Glancing around, I saw drivers in their cars had their shoulders slumped at the wheel.

City folk may like to think we have a lot, but I would hazard that these women with bundles on their heads may have a lot more than we do. They have their health, and what is the point of all the wealth in the world without health?

Posture tells us a lot about ourselves, any health and fitness or related professional will tell you this. Slumped shoulders and a closed chest?

That inhibits the movement of your diaphragm, shortens your hip flexors and impedes your breathing. The shorter your breath, the likelier it is you will be experiencing stress, even if you weren't stressed to start with. That is just an example.

A common ailment, even among Malaysians, is lower back pain. Guess why this happens? The usual reason is because we sit too much, we are overweight, or we don't exercise or move enough, or a combination of all of these. I bet those women with baskets on their heads don't have this problem!

I have heard many parents lament how their children have bad posture, heads craning forward, with shoulders rolled over a sunken chest. The easiest way to avoid all this is to exercise. Usually, especially for children, the movement will naturally cause their anatomy to fall into the correct places.

Yet many parents discourage their children from exercise. Children are very much "monkey see monkey do". If you are eating unhealthily and sitting in your chair the whole day, do you think your children are going to be any different?

Even worse, parents are even telling their children not to exercise. I recall during PE at a private school, a boy refused to do push ups on the school's astro turf because his mother said the ground "has a lot of germs". Well, if people aren't going to exercise, it is going to be an uphill battle getting their posture right.

Let me tell you what good posture does for you. First, when you have good posture, all your organs are said to be properly aligned and can function as intended. This includes your stomach, which is why good posture may improve digestion. Second, it helps to eliminate injury and improve your breathing. Third, there is a correlation between good posture and memory retention, research has shown.

The theory is that with better breathing, more oxygen goes to your brain which improves cognition.

Fourth, it not only makes you look more confident and powerful, it also makes you feel more confident and powerful. There is a reason why the military stresses on good posture. Scientifically, this has a bearing on lowering cortisol levels (a stress hormone) and increase testosterone levels.

And all this can come naturally by just moving.

So next time you see someone balancing a load, realise that it is not that they cannot afford a branded bag to carry their stuff, but that they have good health, as seen in their good posture and balance, that we may not have.

Daniel has a deep passion for health and fitness. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com