Is reading a physically taxing endeavor? Most people would say no. However, many of the graduate school students I know are inclined to say “yes” as the years of heavy reading inflict damage on their bodies. I dedicate this post to all my grad student readers. May you survive the volumes of reading with health & happiness!
One little change can make reading an easier task on your body: using a reading stand to prop the book at an angle that’s easier on the neck. I’ve taken some photos of me reading. When you look at the pictures, pay particular attention to the angle of the neck.
In photo 1, my head is comfortably balanced on top of my spine. My head tends to be forward of optimal posture (true confession!), but this is a pretty neutral position given that underlying issue. Another thing I like about photo 1 is that my hands and arms are free to be in any comfortable position since the book stand is holding the book for me. That’s one less task during the day where my hands & arms need to be forward of centerline, my shoulder blades can be back on the back where they should be and my rib cage can be balanced in the center plane. (P.S. I love my IKEA chair – very nice support!)
Let’s take a look at photo 2. My head is farther forward over my rib cage, shoulder blades creeping off the back toward the front (technically called protraction), hands & arms engaged in the task of holding the book, feet or legs more likely to be crossed to achieve overall balance (not shown). This posture seems benign until you do it for hours. You would usually feel the long-term effects of this posture as strain in the upper back and neck muscles.
And finally photo 3. I look comfy on the couch, don’t I? However, my neck is at a severe angle, flexed forward. Shoulders are all akimbo. My left arm is supporting a lot of weight. If we had X-ray vision, we would see my spine is contorted laterally. I wouldn’t last long in this position. Mind you, changing positions often can be good for gobs of reading, but another strategy is to find a posture-neutral or posture-supportive position and then take movement breaks where you truly engage your body in a range of motion for a body “snack break.” Perhaps pick up a hula hoop during your reading break or do the limbo to some groovy music.
A book stand can be as simple as a plastic cookbook stand (photo 1). There are also products for sale like this from Amazon. (By the way, if you think you might want to buy something like this from Amazon, or any other product from Amazon, consider clicking over to my community health blog and starting with a click on my Amazon carousel. If you make a purchase, I’ll get a little kick-back which helps offset the cost of running that blog. Thanks!)
I’ll end with a quote from Family Circle’s March 2009 issue which got me thinking about this topic years ago. “‘Slumping in a chair crowds your internal organs, resulting in sluggish digestion that can lead to weight gain,’ says celebrity Pilates instructor Brooke Siler. Make sure to keep your waist long by imagining there’s a vertical toothpick in the space between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips.” Toothpicks also available on Amazon!?!