Did anyone ever tell you to “stand up straight” or “sit up straight”?
Check your posture right now. Are you slumping?
Modern living is having a dramatic (and mostly negative) effect on our posture. Being hunched over computers and cell phones, slouching, and a sedentary lifestyle contribute to a host of problems. But improvements are possible with better posture. And the benefits are worth it.
Mental Health Benefits of Good Posture
Mood. Improving your posture has several psychological benefits. A 2017 study from the University of Auckland found that good posture helps ease depressive symptoms. Individuals with mild to moderate depression had more energy and a less negative mood after sitting up straight compared with others who slouched.
Self-confidence. Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on power poses explained how an expansive posture can activate a sense of power in the mind. Some research suggested it was due to positive changes in hormone levels, although that’s somewhat controversial.
Physical Health Benefits of Good Posture
Back. Maintaining a slouched position—sitting or standing—puts pressure on the lower back. Good posture helps maintain the natural curves in your spine.
Neck. A forward head posture, where the head is in front of shoulders rather than directly above, increases neck strain, and may cause headaches. Muscle imbalances arise as the body tries to adapt to the aggravating position. By maintaining a neutral head carriage, neck pain will be reduced.
Digestion. A slouched posture is suspected to hinder digestion. By reducing compression on abdominal organs, their functioning can be returned to normal.
Joints. Chronic bad posture stresses your body, making it harder for muscles to take the pressure off joints. It can lead to joint deterioration. Regular stretches and movement help “lubricate” joints.
Breathing. An American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation study (2006) found that bad posture affects breathing and lung capacity. Slouching restricts breathing volume. Correct spinal alignment improves lung functioning.
Fatigue. Bad posture can limit range of motion, leading to chronic fatigue. Proper posture might just provide more energy.
Perceptual Benefits of Good Posture
Posture not only affects how you feel about yourself, but also how other people perceive you. Right or wrong, posture is one signal of professionalism and success.
There’s an episode of Burn Notice (Season 2 Episode 7) which shows a clear contrast. Michael Weston (covert spy) poses as a chemist geek. Compare the change in body language from spy to geek. Note the differences in posture (straight versus hunched shoulders), walk (self-assured gait versus shuffling) and facial expressions (confident versus insecure). The person is the same, but the aura exhibited is different.
Tips on improving posture
Improve your work station ergonomics. Given how much time people spend working at their desks, ergonomic improvements can help with alignment. Your feet should be flat on the floor, your wrists should be straight, and the height and location of the monitor should be appropriate for its size and the type of work you are doing. See the Ergonomics Self-Assessment Checklist from the National Institutes of Health for more specifics.
Take frequent breaks. Apply the 20-20-20 Rule when working at your desk. Set a timer. Every 20-30 minutes, stand up and look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This will help your spine readjust and help reduce eyestrain. Working out a few times a week—or even more—is great, but you still need to move your body frequently throughout the day.
Stretch during the breaks. Focus on common tight spots. Do shoulder rolls forward and backward. To stretch your scapula, pinch the shoulder blades together while keeping the shoulders down. As a counter-stretch, place both hands on the desk, straightening your arms and rounding your back. Roll your neck. Twist at the waist by turning and grabbing the left side of the chair, then the right.
Stretch your chest. I came across Dr. Greg MacLuckie’s video a few years ago and found it useful for my own purposes. He recommends leaning into a corner (I use a doorway) with arms about shoulder height, palms up. The exercise opens up the chest to counteract the effects of slouching. This is followed by a scapula pinch, with head pulled back. I don’t always do it six times a day as he suggests, but I try to do it more than once.
Remind yourself. Check in with yourself throughout the day. Your ears should be in the same plane as your shoulders, with shoulders back and naval in. Avoid slouching. Stand and sit straight. Even when you are driving a car, avoid hunching over the wheel.
Build new texting habits. Do you look down at your phone with your back curved into a hunching position? Stop it. Raise your phone up toward your face to reduce the stress on the spine.
Carry yoga into daily life. The practice of yoga brings attention to proper posture and breathing. An instructor (or a mirror) can help guide you to correct how you hold your body. Build it into a muscle memory. Use that muscle memory when you are off the yoga mat.
If you’re still not convinced, here is a one-minute news video on the Health Benefits of Better Posture.