Maintaining good posture has many clear benefits. These include things like avoiding neck and back pain, looking good in the mirror, and staying healthy in the long-term. However, there are some benefits of good posture that are only recently coming to light. Some studies suggest that sitting and standing up straight can help keep your mood, energy levels, and self-esteem at relatively high levels.
A straight back also helps keep your exercise sessions safe and effective. Not to mention the fact that a well-functioning neck and spine are essential for nearly every task you perform throughout the day. So read on to discover more about the importance of posture— and how to maintain it.
Causes of Poor Posture
Poor posture comes in many flavours. It’s not just a lack of self-awareness or the result of bad habits, although those do play a part for many. The causes of poor posture are varied and they’re often a combination of things.
For example, your desk at work could be the biggest contributor to bad posture. Or your daily commute home. Perhaps what you do just before bed causes your neck to bend and your shoulders to slump. Don’t worry, we’ll cover it all a bit later. For now, let’s discuss other common causes of poor posture.
In our modern, tech-driven society, more and more people are sitting down at a computer for hours a day. When you’re working all day on something in front of you, it can contribute to poor posture in more than one way.
Not only can desk-work encourage you to look down for long stretches, but it also doesn’t give your muscles much in the way of variety. When you use the same muscles over and over again, day in and day out, those muscles grow stronger and the ones you don’t use get weaker. This can create an imbalance that contributes to poor posture.
Many people don’t think about the lower back when they think of posture, but weak lower-body muscles can also contribute to poor posture.
Tight Chest Muscles
Tight chest muscles can serve to pull your shoulders forward, rounding your upper back and causing you to hunch a little bit.
Weak Back Muscles
On the same token, weak back muscles can combine with tight chest muscles to pull your shoulders forward. Strong rhomboid muscles help bring your shoulder blades together, but exercises targeting these muscles are often overlooked, contributing to the imbalance.
Tight Hip Muscles
Another byproduct of prolonged sitting is tight hip muscles. Your hip flexors connect to your pelvis, and if they are tight they can affect your posture by causing anterior pelvic tilt.
Weak Ab Muscles
Your abs also do a great deal of work to help your posture. If your ab muscles are weak, your body tends to compensate by shifting your weight slightly, usually to the low back. This puts pressure on your lumbar spine and can cause low back problems as you get older.
The good news is you don’t have to hit the gym five days a week to strengthen these muscles. You can improve your posture easily with only a few simple exercises. Then, once you get into the habit of maintaining proper posture, it’s much easier to keep it up.
Of course, you’ll want to do a few things to keep your muscles strong, but they only take a few minutes a day. More on these exercises at the end of the articles.
Poor posture can also be caused by:
- Stress and Anxiety
- Poor Footwear
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about some of these causes. We’ll concentrate on those causes you can do something about.
The Benefits of Good Posture
We all know proper posture is good, but do we know why? As researchers study posture and how it affects the body, some interesting things come to light. Let’s start with the physical benefits.
Physical Health Benefits
When you maintain proper posture, you’re much less likely to suffer a common back or neck strain or injury. When the spine is in its proper alignment, it’s protected, powerful, and well-functioning.
Proper posture decreases wear on the joints in your spine and prevents your bones from slowly shifting into improper positions. Plus, it keeps unnecessary stress from affecting the ligaments in the spine.
Good posture can also:
- Provide optimum circulation.
- Decrease headaches.
- Improve digestion.
- Increase lung capacity.
Mental Health Benefits
Recent studies have also shown some potential mental health benefits of maintaining good posture. Participants who stood or sat up straight reported feeling less anxiety, more energy, better self-esteem, and happier thoughts than those participants with poor posture during the experiment.
While good posture may not change your hormones, as some have suggested, it certainly seems powerful enough to make you feel better.
Proper posture also helps you in the gym. When you exercise with poor posture, you’re more likely to injure yourself due to errors in form. On the other hand, when your spine is neutral it’s able to take more weight and the muscles around it are able to perform as they should.
Plus, good posture helps you maintain balance, which is important if you’re any type of athlete or performer.
The Definition of Good Posture
Before we get into ways to maintain good posture, it’s helpful to know what exactly it is. So here’s a short checklist for good posture:
- Feet are shoulder-width apart, bodyweight distributed evenly.
- Knees are even, facing forward, and slightly bent.
- Hips are even and not tilted forward or back.
- Abs are lightly engaged for support.
- Arms hang straight at sides.
- Neutral spine (no curving or flexing).
- Shoulders are back and down, even with each other.
- Chin is positioned parallel to the ground.
- Feet flat on the floor.
- Knees even and straight ahead.
- Hips even.
- Shoulders are back and down, even with each other.
- Back is neutral.
- Chin is positioned parallel to the ground.
How to Maintain Good Posture
Maintaining proper posture is all about creating healthy habits and promoting self awareness. We’ll go over all the places you’re likely to slip back into poor posture.
Position your computer so you don’t have to look down at it. The top of your screen should be level with your eyes. When you’re typing, your keyboard should be in a position to allow your forearms to be parallel to the floor and your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
Invest in a chair that supports your low and mid-back. Get up and move around for a few minutes every hour.
Mind how you sit when you’re watching TV or eating meals. We often slouch during both these activities, which tends to make things harder for us to maintain good posture when we’re out of the house.
Sitting on a comfy chair or couch is fine, just make sure your whole back is supported and as close to neutral as possible. And don’t sit in the same position for too long.
The commute to and from work is another great place to slouch. Luckily, fixing this is as easy as raising the seat up a little bit or bringing it closer to the steering wheel, so your spine is neutral and your shoulders aren’t pulled too far forward while you’re driving. If your mid or low-back isn’t supported, consider getting a back support cushion.
The best way to sleep is on your back on a mattress that comes into contact with your whole spine. If you like to sleep on your side, place a pillow between your knees to keep your hips aligned with your spine.
If you’re a face-sleeper, try not to turn your head when you sleep. Instead, put a firm pillow under your forehead so you can breath and your neck is straight as you sleep.
Here are three posture correction exercises designed to help you develop and maintain better posture. Do these in conjunction with the tips above for best results.
This exercise is good for stretching your chest muscles while exercising those upper back muscles that tend to get weak.
- Stand with your back against a wall. Your feet should be about three inches away from the base of the wall. Try to press your low back against the wall. If it doesn’t come flush, it’s fine. However, your butt, mid-back, and shoulder blades should all be touching the wall the whole time.
- Tuck your chin and place the back of your head against the wall, as if you’re trying to put the back of your neck flush against the wall.
- Bend your elbows and bring your hands up just above your ears, palms facing forward, and the outside of your forearms and upper-arms touching the wall.
- Slide your arms up against the wall so that they’re straight over your head, while doing your best to keep everything touching the wall (back, butt, shoulder blades, head, arms, hands.)
- Bring your arms back down until your elbows are just below your shoulders. This is one rep.
- Repeat for 10 to 15 times, for 3 sets.
This exercise is excellent for strengthening your core muscles. It’s also good for your upper back and shoulders as well as your glutes.
- Begin by lying on the floor, your forearms under your shoulders parallel to each other.
- Lift your body up on the tips of your toes and your forearms. Think of pushing into the ground with your elbows, which should be directly under your shoulders.
- Create a straight line between your heels and the crown of your head. Flexing your glutes and abs. Don’t let your hips rise up or fall down and keep your head straight, looking at the floor between your forearms.
- Hold this pose for a minimum of 10 seconds and a maximum of 60. Repeat 5 times.
Downward Facing Dog
If you’ve ever done yoga, you’re probably familiar with this one. It’s a staple for a reason; it stretches your hips, low back, glutes, and hamstrings.
- Begin by lying on your stomach with your hands flat on the ground just above your shoulders.
- Push off the ground with your hands and bring your toes under you as you hinge at the hips, pointing your butt at the ceiling.
- Once you’re in an inverted V shape, your arms and legs straight, you can push into your hands and bring your hips toward the wall behind you, stretching out your hips, glutes, hamstrings, and low-back.
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds, gently pushing back to stretch every few seconds.
- Repeat 5 to 8 times.
Correcting your posture can be somewhat difficult, especially if you’re already in pain. If any of the exercises or tips above cause pain, you should stop doing them immediately and contact a doctor of chiropractic.
In fact, even if you don’t have pain and would like to see a professional, chiropractors specialize in posture correction and spinal issues. It’s possible that your pain or poor posture is caused by something that only a professional can diagnose.
For most of us, the best thing we can do for our posture is to be mindful, exercise regularly, stretch daily, and set our homes and workstations up for success. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you find yourself standing with good posture without even trying!