Improve Your Posture
And look instantly taller, slimmer, and more confident!
We're frequently told that good posture has definite benefits for our health, but what is considered 'good' posture? "When standing, your ear, shoulder, hip and ankle shoulder all be in line and your head and shoulders should be over your hips," says Sarah Woodbridge, an Occupational Therapist and Ergonomist based in Derby, England. "This posture allows the natural curves of your spine to flow, and the weight of your body to be evenly distributes throughout the spine."
Many of us, unfortunately, don't do this and are prone to slouching, which can put stress on the wrong parts of the body. If not kept in check, your posture health will suffer and you can end up with permanently poor posture.
What causes poor posture?
"People often feel that back problems only occur with lifting heavy objects, but often it is because of repetitive and awkward postures, or because a poor posture such as sitting slouched or twisted has been sustained for a long period or repeated over many days," explains Woodbridge. Everyday activities like driving, spending a lot of time using a computer or telephone, and always carrying a shoulder bag or a heavy bag are all common culprits of bad posture.
Side effects of poor posture
Poor posture can have a range of consequences for your health. Most obviously there is the pain and discomfort associated with holding muscles in the wrong positions for extended periods of time. "When sitting, people tend to slouch and form a 'C' posture with the head poking forwards and the back rounded," says Woodbridge. "This posture flattens the lumbar curve, the curve in our lower back, and can lead to back ache." Bad posture can also lead to headaches and jaw pain because the head and shoulders are pushed forward.
Healthy posture checklist
Achieving a better posture is often just a matter of changing the way you stand and sit but there's an art to it. "Don't just stick your chest out, you wont be able to sustain that posture for long," explains Woodbridge. "Focus on aligning the ear, shoulder, hip and ankle in a relaxed posture, using your tummy and buttock muscles to maintain the posture."
Keep your head straight over your neck, ears over shoulders so that you can look directly ahead without feeling tension in your neck. Your shoulders should be down and your back straight -- this will help prevent tension around the shoulders. Besides improved posture, you'll also look taller, slimmer and more confident, which gives a boost to your ego.
Tighten up your abs
Whether you're standing or sitting, you'll benefit from this posture corrector. Suck in your stomach muscles are far as possible and then partially release them so that you can still feel that the muscles are being worked. Repeatedly performing this exercise help to tone the stomach muscles, as well as limiting lower back pain.
Check your legs
Believe it or not, bad posture can start with your knees. Instead of locking or hyperextending your knees, keep them relaxed and just slightly bent, which will help bring your pelvis into a more neutral position. It is also important to balance your body weight equally on both legs. Stand with your feet slightly apart so you toes point almost straight ahead whether you're standing or walking.
Ditch the computer slump
When we're sitting at a computer, most of us give in to the urge to slump forwards. Instead of pushing your shoulders forward, aim to push them in a together and down action to limit shoulder and back pain. When you're typing, it's best to have your keyboard positioned so that you don't need to bend your elbows out to the side. Likewise, keep your mouse close to your computer so that your wrists as straight as possible. Neck and shoulder pain are very common if you frequently have to bend awkwardly to look at the screen.
If your bad posture is due to spending long periods of time hunched over a computer, changing your equipment could go a long way towards rectifying the situation. Ergonomic chairs and desks can mean that less stress is being put on the wrong areas. Your office chair should provide adequate support for the lower part of your back and will be adjustable so that you can sit correctly. This isn't always the most practical option if you're reliant on your employer to foot the bill but it can make a big difference to your posture.
Be more active
One of the reasons why people who spend a lot of time working at a computer experience bad posture can be down to being inactive. Wherever possible, take regular breaks so that your body isn't compelled to be in the same position for hours on end. Exercise in general is also a good move. Do a variety of different exercises, including some for strength, some for flexibility, and some for 'core stability' (ones that stabilize the trunk). "Walking is good and is free and easy; swimming is also helpful, and other more formal exercises such as Pilates, aqua aerobics, and Tai Chi can offer gentle and controlled exercise that is not stressful on the joints," advises Woodbridge.
Changing your posture can take some getting used to, especially if you've been adopting the wrong posture for years and it's become second nature. Fortunately it's something that can be rectified if you're willing to make the effort but don't dismiss persistent pain. "Exercise and stretch and look after your health," says Woodbridge. "If you have pain that is not resolving, visit your doctor to make sure nothing more serious is wrong."