Q: I’ve always been active and used to have great posture, but now that I am getting older, I’ve seen a definite change for the worse. When I catch myself slouching, I remind myself to straighten up, but it doesn’t help. What can I do?

A: Proper posture can help alleviate fatigue, aches and pains, and generally help us to function more efficiently throughout the day. Sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time, lifting objects with the back rather than using the leg muscles, and even sleeping in a certain way can influence posture, as can muscle weakness or imbalances.

For most people, good posture means trying to keep the shoulders back, head high, chin up and back flat. However, forcing a straight body position does nothing to address the root cause of poor posture and can bring about muscle tension and distortion of the spine. Eventually, the discomfort and fatigue cause most people to return to slouching.

The spinal column strives to maintain its natural curves, and when they are in proper alignment, in a resting or neutral state, they experience the least amount of strain. The cervical (neck) area of the spine supports the weight of your head, the thoracic (midback) area provides stability and support to the upper back, while the lumbar area of the spine relates to the lower back.

Below the lumbar area is the sacrum, which connects the spine to the lower half of the body. At the bottom of the spine is the coccyx or tailbone. When the vertebrae are misaligned, the natural curves are thrown out of place, bringing stress and strain to muscles, joints and ligaments, which, in turn, affect our posture.

Because there can be many causes of poor posture, obtaining a qualified diagnosis, then following through with recommended treatment, is advised. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the better the chances of correcting the problem.

Restoring full range of motion, increasing flexibility and strengthening weakened muscles can typically be accomplished through specific exercises, consistent practice and patience. As new healthy movement patterns are established, they become a habit, increasingly instinctive and natural, doing away with the need to have to remind yourself to adjust body position.

No matter what your age, it is never too late to change your posture for the better. Studies show that even people in their 80s and 90s can make significant changes in their posture, giving them greater mobility, independence, health and quality of life.

— Marjie Gilliam, Cox Newspapers