How to choose a healthy handbag

Giant handbags may be in style, but carrying a heavy load can really hurt your back. Here’s what styles work best and how much weight is healthy

How to choose a healthy handbag

Source: Best Health Magazine, September 2010

We asked Toronto physiotherapist Angela Growse for guidelines on how to choose a healthy handbag:

The best styles

A backpack with padded straps and a waist belt is optimal, ‘because the weight is distributed primarily onto the hips,’ says Growse, who acknowledges that a backpack isn’t for everyone, every day. ‘Obviously, for work you want to choose something that is appropriate,’ she says. Next best for the body? A padded-strap cross-body bag (any bag with a long or adjustable strap that allows you to wear it across the body). The cross-body rates high because it’s ‘stable and secure, and leaves the hands and arms free.’ Third best is a shoulder bag with a wide padded strap (or with two ‘rolled’ straps).

How to carry it

Carrying a bag in the crook of your arm might be a popular look, but it’s ‘mechanically poor,’ Growse says. ‘You’re scrunching your shoulder, causing compression between neck and shoulder.’

If you do end up carrying your bag on one shoulder, alternate between left and right sides’when you’re going to work in the morning, wear it on one side; on the way home, switch. ‘If you overload one side,’ says Growse, ‘over time muscles lengthen, which is called ‘creep.’ This can lead to problems in the neck, shoulder, arm and wrist’and you start to compensate by adopting a more rounded posture.’

The best materials

Nylon or canvas is better than leather because it’s lighter in weight, ‘but even if you choose leather, the more important thing is to keep the load close to your body.’

The healthiest weight

The weight of a backpack when loaded should be no more than 15 percent of your body weight. So, for a woman who is 140 pounds, that’s 21 pounds maximum. A handbag should be five to eight percent of body weight (so seven to 11 pounds for a 140-pound individual).

And it doesn’t take much to go over the ideal weight. ‘A leather laptop case weighs up to seven pounds’without a laptop in it.’

This article was originally titled "Lighten Your Load," in the September 2010 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!’and make sure to check out what’s new in the latest issue of Best Health.