Friday, October 20, 2006

To Toot Your Own Horn, You Must Have Good Posture

I myself eat more cornbread than some small nations, and I'm an epitome of health, vigor, vim, charm, and good posture. I also control the weather

--Jeremy Jackson

According to an article published by R. Tattersall and M. J. Walshaw in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (Posture and Cystic Fibrosis, 2003), people suffering from CF are likely to succumb to abnormal postures in an effort to relieve shortness of breath. In particular, CF patients tend to develop rounded shoulders, barrel chests, spine curvature and an overall stooped appearance. This may lead to additional health problems and back pain.

Slumping over as a means of reducing shortness of breath may feel better, but the hunching over isn't good. Like a lot of things these days, doing it "just 'cuz it feels good" isn't always the best thing when you look at the overall picture. The reason hunching over reduces shortness of breath is because then your blood--which is carrying much needed oxygen--can move more easily when it has less of the force of gravity to overcome.

For you science geeks out there, F=mg cos theta, where F=force, m=mass, g=acceleration due to gravity, and theta = angle of incline opposite the hypotenuse. This is why if you're leaning way over, it's easier to breathe than it would be if you're sitting up. It's the same reason why it's easier to push a heavy box up a ramp than to try to lift it to the same height straight up.

Okay, enough of the physics lesson. Eventually what happens as your body becomes more accostomed to the hunched over position, your physical ability to have enough force behind a cough for airway clearance is impaired. From there it's a vicious cycle as your lung capacity (FVC) and amount of inital expiratory force (FEV1) are adversely affected.

The moral of the story--your mother knows what she's talking about when she insists that you "quit slouching and sit up straight!"

My parents knew how important it was for me to do whatever it took to keep my lung function at its best. In the fifth grade I joined the school band. I wanted to play the xylophone, but my parents insisted that I play a big heavy brass instrument that provided good lung exercise and plenty of sustained breathing. They bought me a F. horn, and I loved learning to play it. I continued to play throughout high school. I eventually took up the trumpet as well. Even in college I participated in the band and orchestra.

I'm convinced that if it hadn't been for joining the band, I would not have done so well for the first 2 decades of my life. There's definitely something to be said for good posture and deep breathing. Together they can have a lasting, beneficial impact on overall lung health.

(Incidentally, the F. horn pictured above is a Conn 8D, which is the type of double horn I have--that's more than 12 feet of tubing to push air through! Mine's not quite as shiny as the one in the picture, but it sure does sound beautiful!)

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