My mom used to always tell me not to slouch. I would follow her instructions and try to stand tall for a minute, then I’d move on and not think about it again. And nowadays, it seems that I don’t like going for long car rides as much, and I am beginning to understand why! How many of you can relate with this? My guess is most of us!
Do you ever find that standing in a long line starts to be uncomfortable? How about sitting down while you are writing a report and trying to focus, does that eventually get uncomfortable too?
See, there is this thing called posture that causes all of that. Posture is the way we hold our body when standing or sitting. Having good or bad posture has a lot of effects on us, if we didn’t have to live with gravity, then we probably wouldn’t worry about it very much! But since we do, let’s talk about it and try to understand how posture works, what is good or bad, and what we can do about it.
First of all, I am not a doctor, I haven’t studied the body in depth and I am certainly not an expert. But probably like you, I can feel the effects of my own posture and want to understand it better. Thanks to the internet and the experts who have shared their knowledge, I can research and share with you!
What is good posture?
Posture begins with your spine; it has natural curves to it that need to be maintained otherwise it puts your body out of alignment. The parts of your spine that are good to know are the cervical (neck area), thoracic (upper back), lumbar (lower back), and sacrum (tailbone area).
“Good” posture can be called neutral spine, meaning the natural curvature of each of those areas is properly balanced upon each other against gravity and putting the least amount of stress on your spine or muscles. Our other body parts play a role in how our spine is positioned too, like how you position your feet or shoulders throughout the day.
What is bad posture?
Bad posture happens when our spine is out of line and in an unnatural position. This is when we slouch or slump, or even cross our legs too much! It puts our spine in a position that crunches or stretches an area of the vertebrae and puts unwanted stress on the spine, muscles, and joints in that area.
When you combine the bad habit we have of standing, sitting, or laying “out of position” with the effects of gravity over time, we train our body to cope with conditions that are not ideal and cause joint stiffness, poor stability, and weak muscles. All of which can cause pain, I am starting to feel some pain in my shoulders right now writing this! Something I am sure can be attributed to my years of bad posture.
What causes this?
There are many things that put us in this situation. Holding your phone between your ear and shoulder, leaning forward to look at your laptop screen, the shoes you wear, how you lift heavy things, and in some cases your genetics can play a role too.
When you go through the day never thinking about your posture you are bound to put your body through some positions and actions that are unnatural in an effort to, seemingly, make things easier or convenient (though in the big picture we are really making things harder on ourselves!).
What are the impacts of posture?
Good posture is effectively a form of fitness, it plays a major role in a healthy lifestyle. Posture affects all of your joints as well as your shoulder, neck, and back pain. It also plays a role in how efficient your body is at digesting food, maintaining your flexibility and balance, and in your ability to breath freely and effectively.
Bad posture can limit your ability to do simple things. Like moving without pain, sitting for the course of a movie or car ride, and the quality of sleep you’re able to get.
It can also play a big role in your attitude and mood. In the world of cognitive science there is this term called embodied cognition, which means that our cognitive process (how we think) is influenced by our environment and how we interact with it. Studies have shown that an upright stance improves depressive moods. Studies have proven the same with energy levels. Have you heard the saying “keep your chin up” or “keep walking tall”? This is where they come from!
Let’s do a quick assessment
Don’t move! Right now, how are you positioned? Are you sitting or standing? Either way, here are the things you should look for:
1. Are both your feet flat on the floor?
2. Is your weight evening on both hips?
3. Is your back straight?
4. Do your shoulders feel relaxed or are they pulling forward?
5. Are your ears over your collarbone?
There are a few more things we could ask, but to not get too technical, we will stop here.
Just ask yourself how many of these five things can you say yes to? On any random moment, I am probably 0/5 myself, but trying to get better!
Things you can do about your posture
So now we know a little bit about good and bad posture and how it affects us, let's talk about some practical things we can do to improve our posture.
1. Stretching: the bottom-line result of bad posture is your body tightening and compressing in areas it shouldn’t be doing so. Bringing stretching into the mix can directly work against that by engaging and
lengthening the areas of your body causing pain and stiffness.
2. Core exercises: by strengthening your core muscles, you will be more equipped to stand straighter and keep your body stable and balanced, which will result in allowing your spine to relax and fall into a better position.
3. Yoga: Yoga is a great place to go for working on the above two points!
4. Look Up: One of the simplest things we can do to work on our posture is to always be trying to lift our chin and look up! Pretty tough when we are always looking down at our phones and computers, but if you can find a way to raise the things you look at that would help immensely. Maybe place your monitor on a box? Or lay back while reading instead of looking at a book in your lap? I suggest writing this one on your hand so you constantly see the reminder!
5. Keep both feet flat on the ground: This will help you evenly distribute your weight between both hips. I seem to always want to cross my legs when sitting or standing, so I am working on finding ways to remember this one better. I currently put sticky-notes all over my house – the coffee table, the kitchen counter, the wall next to my clock I look at often, you get the idea. I am even thinking about getting a standing desk to more easily keep both of my feet planted on the ground!
Is it too late to correct bad posture?
No! It is never too late to make improvements! If you are good about some of the tips above like stretching and keeping your head up, then you will see, actually feel, a decrease in tension around a troubled area of your body within 3-8 weeks most chiropractic doctors agree.
Posture awareness is the most important thing moving forward
Keeping posture at the top of your mind and coming back to correcting yourself as often as possible is the most important thing you can do. You are going to enter the process of breaking a bad habit and starting a new one.
Start by getting a good feel for what the right posture feels like. Stand against the wall with the back of your head, shoulder blades and tailbone area all touching the wall then take a few deep breaths. As you slowly take these breaths, take a moment to consciously relax any tightened muscles you are able control, and see if you can notice the tension loosening for a moment.
How your body feels against the wall during this exercise is how you want to train your body to position itself with less and less effort over time.
Throughout the day if you notice your
posture slipping, take a second to roll your shoulders away from the front of your body, or straighten y
our back and lift your chin. Maybe even revisit the wall exercise in the middle of the day to put your body back in a good position.
The more you can correct yourself the easier it will become each time.
Unfortunately, we live in a world that does not promote good posture naturally. We are regularly presented with chairs that make slouching too enticing to pass up, workstations that promote slouching over the desk to see what we are working on, and lifestyles that encourage us to always be in a hurry and makes it hard to prioritize stretching and exercise. And then there are smartphones, just think about how much time you spend craning your neck downward as you send that text or read that article – they don’t help one bit!
But with a conscious awareness and an effort to slow down and prioritize things, like our health and quality of activities, we can make a change to live with less pain and more mobility. We will be happier, more confident and look better for it too!