Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Leave a comment

Does eating protein really help muscle growth?


You probably know by now that protein is essential for building muscle. But how much protein is the right amount? Athletes have been chugging protein powder in shakes for decades to bulk up, but powders have their limits as well. Questions remain: How much is too much? What is the upper limit? What’s the lower limit? Does the type of protein make a difference? Are there circumstances under which you shouldn’t ingest more protein? Does timing matter?

Researchers from McMaster University did an aggregate review of 49 studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, consisting of 1863 people, young and old, male and female, novice and professional athletes. The definitive conclusion was that subjects across the board who did ramp up protein intake while doing a weight training program showed an increase of 10% in strength, and 25% in muscle mass.

“The researchers also looked for the sweet spot for protein intake, which turned out to be about 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. In practical terms, that would amount to about 130 grams of protein a day for a 175-pound man. (A chicken breast has about 45 grams of protein.)”

The reason that this news is significant is because the recommended intake for a man of that weight in the past has been pegged at about half that, or 56 grams of protein a day. For a woman who weighs 135, it had been 46 grams. Now her recommended amount would be 98 grams. To get your number, just divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms, then multiply that by 1.6 to find out your ideal protein intake per day to maximize muscle strength and mass. Check out this protein calculator to see how many grams of protein you should consume a day. It’s much easier than doing the math!

As we get older, we naturally lose about 7% of lean muscle mass a decade after age 40. We can counteract that by weight training and increasing protein intake in any form, be it animal protein like eggs, yogurt, beef, poultry or pork, or plants like legumes like peas, beans, and soy, or protein powder. Many nutritionists prefer protein that comes in the form of whole foods for its purity, as long as the protein is of high quality. Also, the conventional wisdom is that naturally occurring protein in foods is more easily absorbed by our bodies. Conveniently, it doesn’t matter when you consume the protein, although many people like to eat or drink it right after exertion.

There are a few caveats, and other research sheds more light on the right amount of protein intake for people with various health concerns.  If you have kidney or liver issues, less protein is better than what’s recommended here. You also must drink plenty of fluids to offset the amount of work your kidneys and liver have to do to metabolize increased protein consumption. About half your weight in ounces is recommended for fluid intake- that’s 64 ounces for a 128 pound person. Also, people who do weight training  without consuming more protein also improve muscle strength and mass, but at lower rates than those who did. Check with your doctor if you have questions about your appropriate protein intake.

In conclusion, weight training and adequate protein consumption are essential components of lean muscle mass maintenance. So, like your mom always said, “Eat your peas”, or beans, or steak, or quinoa or whatever protein floats your boat, and grow those muscles!


Leave a comment

The Joy of Learning


     Jeff, Dana and me at Big Sky, Montana

What’s the optimal amount of feedback one can absorb at one time? I had a great chance to be reminded of my optimal amount during this last week of skiing. It’s tempting to try to gather as much information as you can when taking a ski lesson with just one other person. But in reality, when your body has been working in a certain way, in a certain pattern, in a certain sequence of movements for decades, it’s challenging to change it. 

I love being a student in all types of classes, involving both mind and body. It gives me a chance to  learn something new, and in ski lessons, to apply it immediately.  There’s no place to hide!  Whenever I try to do something different physically, I think of leading classes and giving cues to my clients in personal training sessions. It is always humbling, and being a student provides plenty of chances to increase my empathy for class participants.  Most important, it reminds me that the body has so many ways of moving and improving. 

When trying to improve a certain technique, I found that I could absorb exactly ONE piece of feedback at a time about my skiing form. If I tucked my butt (did an posterior pelvic tilt) and tried to “stack” my upper body over my legs and not lean back, skiing became more effortless, with less stress on my quadriceps muscles. Skiing at Big Sky  provided infinite opportunities to try some new moves, and during this past week we did some great slopes and glade skiing. When skiing the bumps in the woods, I learned to turn on the tops of the bumps, so I wouldn’t literally get stuck in the rut carved by more experienced skiers who went before me. This was very helpful, and I managed to not kiss any trees on the way down, although at times, I came close! 

I’m always confounded by my competing tendencies to challenge myself with steeper or more technical slopes, and my desire to preserve my joints and muscles by doing the trails I know I’ve mastered. This last trip, I managed to find a comfortable middle ground. I tried some glade skiing with plenty of space between the trees with sizable bumps on which I usually don’t do well. The groomed intermediate slopes had enough pitch to allow some good speed, which I really enjoy, but not enough to freak me out so I’d lose control and confidence.

There are many analogies to draw between physical activities and life in general.  In this case, finding the right equation is key.  How do you balance the desire to do something new and challenging vs. playing it safe so you can do the activity for many years to come? Finding that “zone” is called the “just right challenge” in occupational therapy terms.  Part of the thrill of pushing yourself is seeing your capacity to learn and master new things, mixed with a little bit of fear. Yet, part of the pleasure of living each day to its fullest is feeling well enough to do your favorite things without pain or injury. 

We all know that as we age, we need to moderate our activities, but how can we shape our philosophy and lifestyle to maintain the novelty and excitement?  I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on ways you’ve found to keep the spice in your life! 

Leave a comment

A new take on New Year’s resolutions- can timing make the difference?


Every year, we wrestle with thinking about New Year’s resolutions- should we strive to be better at A, B or C? Do our plans to improve our workout regimen, eating habits, performance at work, clutter control, bad relationships, or living situation really have any bearing on what actually will be different by the end of 2018? Do we really need to revamp and be specific about our goals to attain them?  Or should we take a page from yoga practice and just set general intentions, and the behavior will follow?  Should we be happy with the way things are, and focus on the 2 days that matter most, today and tomorrow?

There are so many resources out there regarding goal-setting and maintenance, and how best to meet our lofty expectations of ourselves.  Do we have to re-invent the wheel every year, or does science have something to teach us about being successful ? Today I’ll  share an important, but often overlooked key to reaching those aspirational habits that tend to resurface at this time of year.

Most of us know when we’re at our best to perform certain tasks. Knowing if you’re a morning or a night person is a good start, but studies have shown that certain tasks are best done at specific times of the day. Much research has concluded that timing for specific tasks is key.

There are three major conclusions that have been drawn from research done over many years from a range of disciplines regarding timing for optimal productivity.

“First, our cognitive abilities don’t remain static over the course of a day. During the 16 or so hours we’re awake, they change—often in a regular, foreseeable manner. We are smarter, faster and more creative in some parts of the day as opposed to others.

Second, these daily fluctuations can be extreme. “The performance change between the daily high point and the daily low point can be equivalent to the effect on performance of drinking the legal limit of alcohol,” writes Russell Foster, a neuroscientist and chronobiologist at the University of Oxford, and Leon Kreitzman in their book “Rhythms of Life.” Other research has shown that time-of-day effects can explain 20% of the variance in human performance on cognitive undertakings.

Third, how we do depends on what we’re doing. We’re more effective at some tasks early in the day and at other tasks later in the day.”

We tend to experience the day in 3 parts; the peak, the trough, and the rebound. The vast majority of us have our greatest ability to concentrate in the early to late morning, unless we’re night owls. If we feel energized late into the evening, we may experience the stages of the day in reverse, peaking between the hours of 8 PM-12 AM.

For instance, many analytic tasks that require high levels of concentration have been shown to be most accurately performed when done in late morning up until you eat lunch. Because our body temperature slowly rises after we awaken, and our energy and oxygenation is at its best at that time, our brain is ready for challenging cognitive tasks.

The trough is the early to late afternoon, and this is a time when mistakes or general fuzziness around problem-solving may occur.  Many people experience the plunge in energy, sometimes called the post prandial dip, after lunch up until about 3-4 PM. This is a time when tasks like answering emails, filing, routine correspondence or doing any tasks that don’t require intense concentration are best done. The rebound time, from late afternoon to early evening, can be the best time for creative solutions, when your mind is more relaxed, open, and you’ve recovered from the trough. Brainstorming, figuring out new ways to solve problems, and collaborating with others is likely best done during this time of the day.

For exercise resolutions, this may be different. Many of us have the best intentions to exercise, but other obligations get in the way. If we don’t do it in the morning, our life’s demands take over, and it doesn’t get done. Exercise has been shown to boost mood, and its positive effects may be felt the whole day when we make it part of our morning routine. If we can exercise after a full night’s sleep, without eating, we are more efficient at burning stores of fat,  rather than using calories from a recent meal or snack. However, we are more likely to have better performance and avoid injury later in the day when our muscles are warm, and studies have shown that late-day exercisers seem to enjoy it a bit more.

If your goals are more global, such as improving mood, happiness and productivity, this next tip may be one of the easiest to incorporate into your life. Researchers have shown that taking breaks can help on on all fronts. Frequent, short breaks are more effective than one longer break. Breaks with other people and/or those that are outside in nature are most effective. It’s important to detach from work, or stressful people or situations, in order for the break to have a maximum impact.

To learn more, see

No matter what your type, whether your chronotype is nighttime, or daytime, it makes sense to see how your current task schedule jives with your natural rhythms. You may find that you don’t necessarily need to change the WAY you do anything, just the TIMING of when you do it.

A simple work/play pie chart, along with analyzing when you feel your sharpest, may help you realign your task achievement with your natural biorhythms. So, set that alarm, do your analysis and let time be on your side!



Leave a comment

Worthy topic recaps from 2017 and Happy 2018 !


As I look through 2017 blog posts, a few major themes emerge. Here’s a synopsis of some topics you may have missed that can encourage health, happiness and longevity.

If I had to think of the single most important benefit of exercise, it’s this: It encourages neuron growth, it fosters other good habits like eating well and other forms of self-discipline, it slows down the aging process by helping your cells regenerate and stay more metabolically active, it aids memory, new learning, and mood. OK, I knew I couldn’t keep it to one point!

Furthermore, when you get into healthy habits of adequate sleep, nutritious eating, stress management techniques like meditation, art or any other activity that relieves tension, and consistent exercise, managing life’s challenges becomes easier.

So, how do we define consistent exercise? It’s at least 3 days a week of moderate exercise that includes some interval cardio training, core, and strength training. Core and strength training can either be done through body weights, tubing, bands, dumbbells, kettlebells or weight machines, and should ideally include flexibility and balance work, as well. Interval training and strength training have been shown to have direct positive effects on our brain cell growth, memory, and mood.

Adequate sleep is defined as at least 7 hours for most people. Some outliers can do OK with less, and many of us do very well with more! At this point, you likely know your sweet spot for your number of optimal sleep hours per night. Some people insist that they can catch up on sleep during weekends, but it doesn’t quite work that way. You still end up sleep-deprived for 5 out of 7 days a week!

Nutritious eating can be summarized by focusing on eating whole foods, cooking as much as possible at home, or getting prepared foods from places that use fresh produce and minimal salt, sugar and fat in their ingredients. As Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I am not a vegetarian, but fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, some whole grains, fish, a little bit of chicken, and very little meat comprises most of my regular diet. I love sweets, so I consciously limit myself to very few of those, but will indulge when something is home baked or really worth it! It is true that when you begin eating healthily, unhealthy foods begin to lose their appeal, and your body will rebel when it is fed things that aren’t good for it.

Another major theme of 2017 is habit change. I featured a 3 part series that focused on ways to change habits for good in blog posts from September to October. To succeed at changing behaviors, integrating new routines and structuring the environment for habit maintenance is essential. Proper ergonomics and posture fall under this umbrella. The way we hold our body is essentially a long term habit, as is our gait and way of sitting when working at a desk, driving or doing anything else that is part of our daily routine. Many sources of chronic pain can be mitigated with well-designed work stations and consistent stretching and strengthening routines that promote good posture.

Getting outside has always been a favorite for people who love to exercise outdoors, but some new research about the benefits of forest bathing and the natural oils emitted from the woods underlines the benefits of the great outdoors. The sights, sounds and smells of nature are a great reminder of how big the world is, and how relatively small our place is within it.

On that note, if you do get outdoors, bundle up and cover any exposed areas. In temperatures below 15 degrees, you can get frostbite even after a short time. I’ll refer people to the discussion of staying safe in icy weather to the “walk like a penguin” post of February 17th, 2017 that is worth a look back at. Remember to don your yaktraks, boots with the best traction, or walking or ski poles to stay safe.

One last, but certainly not least, topic that is worth mentioning is keeping yourself open to new experiences. My blog post of my very delayed trip to California details learning about a different slice of life than if everything had gone smoothly. Also, the “Wait, what?” post has ideas for learning that apply to nearly everyone.

One of my favorite news stories of the year was about newlyweds Alvin Mann, age 94, and Gertrude Mokotoff, age 98, who just kept looking forward, as opposed to behind them. They just happened to have met at the gym. What a great place to meet someone who has a zest for living! They credit their longevity and vitality to worry-free living and staying active.  Staying fit is not only an activity that pays great dividends, but it’s also a means to an end. If Alvin and Gertrude hadn’t been staying fit and kept their minds and bodies busy, there’s an excellent chance they may not have the energy or inclination to get married at their advanced age. Their great story is detailed here:

So, raise your glass of herbal tea, fair trade coffee, locally sourced juice, or filtered water for a toast (whole grain) to 2018, a year in which I wish health, happiness and peace to you and your loved ones! Happy New Year!


Leave a comment

Your secret weapon for optimal health

If I told you there was one sure way to feel happier, more energetic, have a clearer mind, better memory,  manage blood pressure, and insulin response, and get sick less often, would you be interested?  What if I told you that it was accessible and free?  Well, that secret weapon is within your grasp and you can obtain it  for good starting tonight.  You may have guessed by now, that it is ….  getting enough sleep!

Sleep provides the essentials for resting your brain and body, as well as the time needed to replenish your stores of energy.  It also allows vital organs like kidneys, liver, lungs and heart to do their job while our skeletal muscles don’t require the oxygen and circulation needed during waking hours.

During sleep, these essential functions occur:

Cardiovascular function,  respiration and blood pressure –  These bodily operations gradually slow down as we sleep, but fluctuate during the night.  We alternate between two types of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM), and our vital functions change according to which type of sleep we are experiencing. REM sleep, which is our deepest sleep,  is essential for neuron health, and when we get 4 hours or less, we suffer.  Because sleep deprivation causes increased levels of our stress hormone, cortisol, and other excitatory hormones to be released, it may disrupt our ability to sleep deeply during the night. Lack of proper sleep causes neurotransmitter disruption which increases heart rate and blood pressure, which may ultimately lead to cardiovascular disease.

Immune health – Did you ever notice that you tend to get sick when you’re sleep deprived, and when you’re sick,  all you want to do is sleep? This is because cytokines, which are chemicals that fight infection are produced when we sleep. Adequate cytokine levels are essential to maintain healthy immune levels.

Appetite modulation – While we sleep, we produce hormones that regulate appetite. Leptin is the hormone that suppresses appetite, while ghrelin stimulates appetite. They both play a role in our feeling of satiety after eating.  You may notice that when sleep is deficient, you reach for more carbohydrates and empty calories for fuel to stay alert. With reduced sleep, the levels of leptin and ghrelin are disrupted, and we feel more hungry, have difficulty modulating levels of fullness, and subsequently have irregular snacking and meal habits. Take note that people who work during the nighttime, unless they are scrupulous about getting enough sleep, are often at higher risk for obesity and diabetes, because of disruption of  blood sugar and insulin levels.

Circadian rhythms – Adequate sleep is regulated by, and helps regulate our natural circadian rhythm, which is our body’s built-in 24 hour clock. This regulates digestion and appetite,  body temperature and sleep. If you’ve ever experienced jet lag, you’re familiar with the results of this disruption to our inherent body clock.  You may have felt colder, hungrier, and feeling like you have brain fog. Craving sleep in the middle of the afternoon, or waking up very early in the morning  is caused by this altered circadian rhythm to which your body adjusted during travel to a different time zone.

Melatonin – This natural hormone, which is a byproduct of seratonin, a neurotransmitter, increases as it get dark, and is lowest during the day. Poor sleep disrupts melatonin production, which aids in sleep, so once again, a negative feedback loop is created by improper sleep. There is a slight increase in melatonin for most of us between 1-4 in the afternoon, which explains the brilliance of Europeans and South Americans who take a siesta, along with our struggle in the afternoon to stay awake while sitting still!

Cortisol production – Although cortisol is known as the stress hormone, it has other vital functions. Among them are  aiding in “immune response, blood pressure, conversion of norepinephrine to epinephrine, and metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats”. When sleep is reduced, alteration of cortisol levels can lead to diabetes, obesity and higher states of chronic stress.

Mood  – We all have experienced how lack of sleep causes us to feel irritable, unhappy and impatient. If sleep deprivation is chronic, depression is a common result. More dramatically, chronic severe sleep deprivation has been shown to bring on symptoms of psychosis in some individuals.

Chemical and other hormone regulation – A variety of hormones are produced during sleep, such as growth hormones, which repair bone, muscle and tissue, and sex hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. Adenosine, which regulates sleepiness and alertness is also affected when sleep deprived, so the cycle of poor sleep feeds on itself, preventing the body from getting into a healthy sleep/wake cycle.

Telomere length – Telomeres are caps on the end of our chromosomes that protect cells and genes. As we age, our telomeres get shorter, but there are many things we can do to keep our telomere length longer as we get older. One important contributor to healthy telomeres is at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Recent research has shown that deep sleep maintains telomere length, which slows cell aging. More information about telomere health and its relation to healthy aging can be found in the book “The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer” by Drs. Elizabeth Blackburn, and Elissa Epel.

Memory and overall brain function – We all know that when we sleep poorly, our memory and ability to perform tasks and solve problems is compromised. Think of sleep as the time when our brain does its general housekeeping. Selective forgetting of unimportant tasks is as important as storing, remembering and processing information for essential tasks. Our neurons are strengthened more during sleep than awake time.  The increased demands on our body when awake, such as increased movement, heart rate, and active problem solving limit the amount of energy relegated to neuron maintenance.

For more information, see  . Stay tuned for more posts about aids to good sleep habits.

So there you have it- an idea for the holidays that doesn’t involve more will- power, work, or exhaustive planning. Just find your nearest book that is not a page-turner, snuggle up with your favorite comforter (be it inanimate or human), close your eyes and reap the rewards!

Sweet dreams!






Leave a comment

Delicious, healthy and light Thanksgiving tips and recipes

So you’re hosting or coming as a guest for this Thanksgiving holiday.  But… you’re not looking forward to gaining weight and feeling stuffed from eating too much heavy food. There are many delicious alternatives to the usual rich fare that dominates during holiday season.   Do you know that sugar or heavy food “hangover” you experience after a feast?  I’m very familiar with that!  But, I’m getting better at how to still enjoy traditional Thanksgiving and holiday treats by keeping the following tips in mind.

To begin with, eat a reasonable breakfast, and a very light lunch if the Thanksgiving feast is your dinner. This may seems counterintuitive, but instead of saving up all your calories for the big meal, you’ll modulate your intake better if you aren’t ravenous once it’s turkey time.  If the feast is in the middle of the day, eat a light breakfast, with plenty of water, tea or light beverages before the main meal, especially if it will take place mid-afternoon. Having soup before your main meal is also a good way to reduce your chances of eating too much later.  Soups are filling and can prevent calorie overload once the meal is served.

When drinking, be aware of how many glasses of wine, beer, or hard liquor you’re consuming by not refilling a drink before you’ve fully finished the first glass. Make a decision ahead of time how much alcohol you’ll consume, and try to keep it to no more than 2 glasses at the maximum. The calories add up quickly, and will power goes out the window as soon as alcohol comes into play.

Be aware of the “invisible” calories that come in the form of appetizers before the main meal.  Chips, dips, cheese and crackers easily add 500-800 extra calories before you can say “Pass the brie, please.”  Don’t be fooled by the dips that are called vegetable dips (artichoke dip is a classic) that have lots of extra cheese, sour cream or butter in them.

There are certain foods that show up almost exclusively on Thanksgiving, such as stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Forego the more common foods like mashed potatoes and bread that may be part of your weekly diet in favor of the specialty foods that appear only on this holiday.

Watch your portions!  Usually the most enjoyable bites are the first few, and if you eat slowly, you’ll give yourself the minimum of 20 minutes that are needed to register satiety in your stomach.  Socializing is a great way of slowing down the chowing down, so sidle up to your favorite friend or relative to pace your forkfuls. Rethink taking a second serving of anything. You probably are already full, and visualize how you’ll feel if you overeat.

This is a good time to practice the new healthy plate distribution. Fill up half your plate with low starch veggies like green beans, broccoli, brussel sprouts, asparagus, beets, cauliflower and any leafy greens including salad.  Fill a quarter of your plate with turkey or other protein, which is very satiating, and another quarter with starchy foods, which include sweet potatoes, rice, squash, corn or peas. This portion should be no larger than half a baseball in size.

When going for dessert, take small slivers of the pies or cakes, or just one cookie instead of piling up your plate. If you take small amounts at a time, there’s a built in delay that will prevent eating more than necessary. Lack of proximity to food is a good deterrent; be sure that you avoid sitting near tempting foods within easy reach.

More tips for managing holiday feasts can be found at

I’m a sucker for all types of “orange” veggies, and my favorites are delicata, acorn and kabocha squash and sweet potatoes. Instead of a sweet potato casserole, try this tasty alternative. You can also substitute butternut squash cubes for the sweet potatoes.

Maple glazed roasted sweet potatoes

  • 2½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1½-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
  • ⅓ cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons butter or smart balance,  melted
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Active preparation 10 minutes, but ready in 1 hour, 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°F.

  1. Arrange sweet potatoes in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Combine maple syrup, butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper in small bowl. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes; toss to coat.
  2. Cover and bake the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir and cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender and starting to brown, 45 to 50 minutes more.
  • Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Just before serving, reheat at 350°F until hot, about 15 minutes.

Nutrition info:

  • Serving size: about ½ cup
  • Per serving: 92 calories

See  for more great ideas.

Gluten-free mushroom fennel quinoa stuffing- tastes better than it sounds!


  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed well
  • 1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth (vegetarians use veggie broth)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3/4 cup fennel, diced
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrots, diced
  • 8 oz sliced fresh mushrooms
  • salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste


  1. Cook rinsed quinoa in broth according to package directions.
  2. While the quinoa is cooking, in a large heavy sauté pan add olive oil to the pan, then the onion, sauté one minute.
  3. Add the fennel, celery, and carrots, salt and pepper to taste; cook about 12-15 minutes over medium heat, until vegetables are soft.
  4. Add the mushrooms to the pan, more salt and pepper if needed and cook, stirring 5 minutes, then cook covered for 2 minutes, or until the mushrooms have released their juice and are cooked through.
  5. Add the cooked quinoa to the pan and mix well.

Yield: 7 servings, Serving Size: 3/4 cup, calories: 136

For more excellent alternatives to traditional thanksgiving recipes, go to 

There are so many great resources online and in articles and cookbooks with a focus on reducing calories, but not your pleasure as you enjoy your holiday meals. Check out the resources above, and have a fabulous, healthy Thanksgiving with your family and friends!


Leave a comment

Can improving your posture reduce back or neck pain?

The short answer is very likely yes.  Even if improved posture doesn’t reduce pain, it may prevent pain from getting worse or more chronic. Very frequently, I’m asked by my clients how to improve their posture.  The answer is multi-pronged. Stretching, strengthening, and rolling out tight muscles all play an important role.

There are many reasons why posture becomes an issue as we age. The most obvious ones, gravitational pull and weakened muscles are partly to blame. The older we get, the longer we have spent in the same static positions and body holding patterns.  Decreased activity and more time sitting are also culprits. Increased use of technology is wreaking havoc on people’s necks, as smartphones, tablets, and computer monitors are rarely in the perfect ergonomic position. I shudder to think of how children and teenagers who are constantly looking at their iPhones will fare as they get older. As the technology in our homes, cars and devices improve our convenience and efficiency, the reduced demand on using our bodies may actually be detrimental.

Where should you begin when trying to improve your posture?  The very first step is awareness.  After you recognize when your head, neck, back and pelvis are in poor positions, then try the following steps.

  1. Use a mirror to align your body and have a friend or partner confirm that your head and spine are positioned well.
  2. Do specific stretches (see below) that will loosen up the tight chest, shoulder and arm muscles that interfere with good posture.
  3. Do specific exercises (see below) to strengthen overstretched and weak muscles of the neck, shoulders and back and shore up postural muscles.
  4. Repeat and practice the stretches and make them a habitual part of your daily routine.
  5. Give permission to close family or friends to remind and cue you to stand up straight to raise your awareness of your spinal position.

Following are some tips to improve posture:

  1. Stand with feet about hip width apart, with eyes focused straight ahead, arms relaxed.
  2. Turn palms forward, rolling shoulders back.
  3. Use a wall as a reference point to to position head directly over shoulders by gently pushing the back of your head into the wall, or use a pillow behind head to accomplish pressing your head back- repeat 5 times maximum.
  4. In above position,  move shoulder blades back so they are squarely against the wall.
  5. Practice sitting on the floor, with straight posture, knees slightly bent or criss-crossed, using back muscles to hold yourself up with hands on lap, instead of slumping against the back of a chair or sofa.
  6. Regular rolling of tight muscle groups can relieve muscle knots and prevent acute problems from becoming chronic.

Try the following exercises:

Seated back straightener at  This site also lists the muscles essential to good posture.

The Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais are two biomechanical methods that examine how your daily habits contribute to chronic pain.  I’m a firm believer in the benefits of chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture and the myriad of other energy and pressure release and alignment techniques that can help you temporarily feel better.  However, if you return to the same patterns of movement and static ways you hold your body, don’t be surprised when the pain returns.

See the site below to learn more about these methods:

Last, but not least, what are some good, tried and true exercises to improve posture? The ones that are simple, require no special equipment, and are ones you’ll do every day.  See the following for some ideas:

  1. Plank- Activate all the major muscle groups, from neck to toes
  2. Crunches- keeping low back on the floor, with neck in alignment
  3. Crunches with twists
  4. Superman/woman – use cushion under abdomen and be sure not to strain back by lifting too high
  5. Superman/woman with flutter kicks- swimmers
  6. Back extension- bridges
  7. Dumbbell side bends
  8. Seated Twist for obliques or bicycles
  9. Shoulder rolls
  10. Kneeling stretches to stretch hip flexors

The following site will show demonstrations of these exercises and stretches.

Some of the other benefits of better posture are improved oxygenation of muscles and brain due to better lung expansion. Proper spinal alignment helps decrease the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces and decreases the stress on the ligaments holding the joints of the spine together. Last but not least, straighter posture helps you feel more alert, and look more confident.

If you have been struggling with trying to improve your posture for a while, or have chronic back, neck, hip or shoulder pain, a class or personal session to address  postural alignment, and weak and/or tight muscles is in order. You may also want to explore the Feldenkrais or Alexander techniques which are offered in this area by googling certified practitioners.  At the very least, try the exercises and tips above to see how you can improve your posture. Here’s your chance to do what your mother has always encouraged you to do – stand up straight!