Updated: Feb 15, 2021
'Never slouch, doing so compresses the lungs, overcrowds other vital organs, rounds the back and throws you off balance'. - Joseph H Pilates
I'm not very tall, about 5ft 5, but as a child I towered over my friends, which I hated! (don't think I've grown since I was 13). As a result, I became very round shouldered. I remember my mother constantly tapping me in the back and telling me to straighten up! And of course, she was right! Bad posture is not a good look. It can affect your life, health and wellbeing in lots of ways, including how you feel, your breathing, how you come across to others, how you look in clothes ……and its very aging! I remember looking at an uncle of mine, who was 80 years old and wondering how he looked years younger than he was. Then I realised his posture was just amazing for his age and I wondered why this was so unusual.
Surely it’s possible to keep good posture into old age? According to the American journal of pain management, ‘To live a long, active, energetic life, few things matter more than posture’. Nowadays, we tend to spend a lot of time sitting, and hunched over our phones and computers. Human bodies did not evolve to sit in chairs all day! (although they could be evolving in that direction at the moment).
Standing with good posture can make you feel and look happier, more alert and confident. But what many people don’t realise is that it is just as important and as essential as healthy diet, sleep and exercise. It ensures your body is well equipped to take on daily tasks safely and with energy, reducing fatigue.
So, what is good posture and how can we maintain it? Put simply, it’s the way we position our bodies while standing, sitting and lying down. Good posture is also known as a neutral spine. When we have good posture, the muscles surrounding the spine are balanced and supporting the body equally. So, when your posture is good and your body is well aligned, the muscle tension is just about right.
So, what are the detrimental effects of bad posture on your body?
Sitting or standing in a slouched position for long periods of time, stresses your lower back. It puts pressure on the posterior structures of the spine, including the intervertebral discs, facet joints, ligaments and muscles.
Slouching can also compress your lungs. If you’re sitting or standing taller, your lungs have room to expand. If you are compressing vital organs, your circulation is poor and these organs won’t work as efficiently. Healthy blood flow requires proper alignment and avoiding positions that cramp circulation like crossing your legs.
Forward head posture puts a strain on the upper back, shoulder and neck areas. With proper alignment the joints and ligaments are less stressed and less subject to chronic overuse. Try this exercise. Stand with a straight spine and neck. Slightly draw your chin directly backward. You should feel a slight tensioning of your clavicle and lengthening of the back of your neck. Hold for 3 seconds. Repeat 15 times.
Crooked sitting or standing such as resting on one leg or side of your body leads to hip strain. Your joints wear down naturally over time. If your posture is perfect, not many problems arise but if you’re slouching and uneven, pain and issues are likely to occur. This exercise will stretch your hip flexors and strengthen your core and lower back. Come into a kneeling lunge, front leg at a 90-degree angle, with your foot planted on the floor. Engage your abdominal muscles, slightly tuck the pelvis and release.
So, sustaining good posture is a big part of your health.
It ensures that your bones are well aligned with the rest of the body, while the tension in your muscles and ligaments is properly distributed, placing less stress on the joints. So your muscles work more efficiently ensuring the body uses less energy, eliminating muscle fatigue. This allows you to undertake tasks for longer with minimal exhaustion. The muscles don't have to work so hard to do what they're supposed to do.
It holds the spinal joints in place. With less stress on the ligaments, the possibility of injury is greatly reduced. It definitely helps in preventing back and muscular pain, eliminating a lot of other ailments that may accompany such issues.
Decreases the abnormal wearing of joints by keeping them on the bones properly aligned. Once the muscles are used correctly no wear and tear occurs and chronic risks like arthritis are eliminated.
Muscular effort is required to maintain good posture. If you're holding a good posture, your core and upper back muscles will remain active and engaged therefore improving core and scapular strength.
Our posture doesn't just affect us when we're sitting and standing but when we're exercising too. For example, having an engaged core and neutral spine during a squat will help prevent injury. You will also get the most out of your exercise making it more effective and efficient.
Here’s a quick posture check:
When sitting ensure your feet are resting flat on the floor with weight equally distributed between the hips, and knees at or below hip level. Your spine should be straight apart from its natural curves of course. Your shoulders should be back and relaxed and your ears in line with your collarbones. Make sure your backrest supports your entire back.
When standing you need a slight bend in the knees to prevent hyperextending or locking your knee joints. Standing properly ensure that your weight is distributed across the entire soles of your feet, engage your abdominals, and have your hands hanging naturally down the sides of the body while maintaining a straight and tall structure.
When lying down first of all make sure you have a good comfortable mattress. If you prefer a hard or soft one it doesn’t matter. Always support your head with a pillow so that is at an elevated position to the rest of your body to aid blood circulation and avoid lying on your stomach.
Most places we work and live encourage us to do things in front of us, leading to more of a forward posture. Adjust the ergonomics at work and home to support a better posture. Use a more supportive chair and a sit to stand desk.
If you focus your attention on proper alignment you will improve your workout results and prevent injury. So, focus on core strength and pay attention to your balance and overtime you will notice this position will come more easily. Awareness of the body is essential to good posture, so check in with your body’s position at regular intervals during the day. A note on your computer screen will remind you.
When sitting bring your hips to the back of the chair. Place your feet on the ground to improve support. You might need a cushion or a rolled-up towel to support your natural lumbar curve to maintain this posture. Shoulders and neck should be relaxed.
When you are sitting make sure the weight is on your sit bones not on your tailbone or the back of your thighs.
Move around frequently, if you can, every 20 to 30 minutes. It’s impossible for anyone to sit with perfect posture all the time as it takes a lot of strength. When you feel your muscles tiring or notice you are starting to slouch, get up and move around.
Have a look at my yoga class ‘Yoga for better posture’. We first find all those bony landmarks that need to be aligned, keeping awareness of this position throughout the class. You cannot have good movement without finding first a neutral posture and moving from there. Enjoy!