Posture. Not just a big person problem.

Last week my Kid’s Pilates class returned for term 3, and it got me thinking about their posture. With so many schools these days introducing ipad-based learning and individual laptops for kids as young as 7, how is this affecting their posture? I have had a couple of parents recently quiz me on what they can do for their kids, with shoulder tension, headaches and neck strain becoming a common occurrence. Can we teach kids good posture at such a young age? Should they be spending this much time hunched over a screen? Is this any different to the generations of learning from books, hunched over desks?

At the same time last week I heard about some innovative physical therapy ideas, using game consoles for neurological rehab. (Using technology for good instead of evil in the world of movement!). The idea being that movement-based rehab is most effective if it is:

1. fun

2. complex

3. repeated many, many times

The same qualities that make games addictive are being utilized to make rehab effective. Brilliant! So we have to make things fun so you want to do them, rather than feeling like its a chore. (In the physical therapy game idea, this means juggling, or shooting spells in your ‘game’ to score points and get prizes. Way more fun than the stick figure exercises your physio gave you, yeah?). The complex part means the more combined movement patterns your rehab movement has, the more overflow it will have to the very complex movements you do in every day life. And hopefully the not-so everyday too. The more ways your brain has trained the correct movement, the more likely you are to execute a successful and therefore non-harmful movement when faced with something new, like lifting something unusual, or running for the bus. The repetition is required for your brain to adopt this new pattern as habit. And research has shown when it comes to brain work – the more the merrier.
So all of this is good news for Pilates! We love to make things fun for starters (who said exercises should be boring!) and combined and complex movements are part of the deal. Repetition, on the surface, seems low (have you ever been told off by your instructor for doing 30 of something when you should be doing 10?), but here’s the explanation – we want you to concentrate and keep your brain involved as you trying to change movement patterns so too many leads to brain fade. Ideally, those 10 reps you do in a concentrated, focused and precise way are also reinforced in 4 other exercises that session. And then your brain remembers them while you are moving all day long for the next 48hrs or so, and hopefully by the time its forgotten you’re back in the Pilates studio!

So how does this relate back to the kids? Well, it got me thinking – what if we gave them tools to fix their own posture, to trick themselves into repeating good movement habits multiple times per day from the age of 7? What if we made movement fun! A game to see if they can beat their own score each day (or they get in trouble by the Posture Police maybe?!). What if they start their relationship with technology already understanding its effects and practicing ways to avoiding them? I am yet to uncover the answer, but I can assure you my six dedicated youngsters in my Kid’s class will have a few tricks up their sleeve by the time the year is out.

In the meantime, take some tips they’ve learned so far – every 20 minutes today, ditch your ‘shoulder earrings’, swap your ‘spaghetti back’ for a ‘strong back’ and breathe in like your lungs are balloons. It may not cure your posture but it could be the first step in the right direction.