Stand up straight!
‘Stand up straight!’ ‘Don’t slouch!’ What comes to mind when you read these phrases? For me it brings back memories of my teenage years when my mum would remind me to stand tall and proud. At the time I didn’t realise the value of her advice. Posture is one of those things that can be easily overlooked until the results of years of bad posture catch up with you.
But never fear – whilst having perfect posture is hard to achieve, most people are capable of improving their posture in some way by committing to small changes every day.
What is posture?
Posture is the position in which someone holds and balances their body in space whilst standing still, moving, sitting or lying. Use of the word ‘holds’ in this definition would suggest we are always in control of our posture, but here in lies the problem – posture is mostly unconscious. We might focus on it for a few minutes when reminded, but most of the time we are busy thinking about other things. Outside of an exercise class (or this blog!), when was the last time you really thought about your posture?
So what does good posture look and feel like? Good posture should feel relaxed and easy, because your body is in the correct position to allow your bones to keep your body balanced and upright, rather than feeling tense or strained due to your muscles having to overwork.
Look at your posture in the mirror. Try to keep your chin parallel to the floor, ears over shoulders, shoulders back and down over hips, shoulders and hips at an even height with your knees slightly bent and body weight evenly spread over both feet. This may feel strange at first! The key to good posture is then the position of the spine, which should maintain its 3 natural curves (s-shaped from neck to lower back). Yes, this is a lot to think about, and it may not even be physically possible for you right now, but there will likely be simple changes that you can make every day that will help to improve your posture in the long run. More on that later.
Poor posture often stems from modern-day habits, such as the ever-increasing number of hours that people spend looking down at a mobile phone or slouching in a chair watching TV. Maybe you find yourself sitting hunched over a laptop at work for hours on end, or carrying heavy objects such as shopping bags or work equipment? All of these things can overstretch and weaken muscles in your back, chest and core, making it a challenge to keep upright. Addressing and changing these habits could lead to big improvements in the way you feel.
Worse still, maybe you regularly suffer from neck and shoulder pain, stiffness and aching in your back, headaches and jaw pain, muscle fatigue? These can all be a result of poor postural habits too. Rounded shoulders and forward tilting hips are two very common postural defects. Rounded shoulders can lead to neck and shoulder pain and headaches. Forward tilting hips can often cause pain in the back and hips due to the excessive curve in the lumbar spine. It is important to seek professional advice from a doctor, physiotherapist or chiropractor if you experience specific and ongoing issues.
Improving your posture
Working towards a better posture involves more than just standing or sitting up straight, but honestly, this is a good place to start! It is about strengthening how the body balances and moves. Corrective posture exercises depend on the defect but, in general, stretching your tight muscles and strengthening your weaker ones will help to reduce any muscle imbalances.
For useful ongoing advice, I highly recommend following the Range Of Motion Facebook page, but there are also a few tips you can try on a daily basis to make sure you’re working towards more general posture improvements:
- Hold your mobile phone at eye level when you use it to try to combat ‘text neck’. Flexing the neck directly affects the spine. The average adult head weighs about 10 pounds, but when tilted forward to 15 degrees it places about 27 pounds of force on the neck!
- Try to avoid crossing your legs, as sitting for long periods of time with your leg over your knee can cause your pelvis to rotate and tilt, possibly leading to lower back pain.
- Avoid slouching in chairs, as this can add unnecessary strain to muscles and put stress on the spine.
- Avoid sleeping on your front as it makes it difficult to maintain a neutral spine position, leading to stress on the spine. Spinal stress can cause pain in many other parts of your body.
- If possible, move every 20-30 minutes, as this will help to reduce the stress on your back muscles, neck and spine. A lot of muscle imbalances can stem from sitting in one position for too long.
- If you have to sit at a desk looking at a laptop most of the day, try to ensure the laptop is at eye level and you sit with your shoulders back and down, chest up, chin pulled back with ears over your shoulders.
If you have ever suffered as a result of a postural defect, then I am certain you will have become much more mindful of your posture. It is worth investing time in improving your posture to reap the many benefits for your body. Good posture can help improve core stability, lung capacity and muscle balance as well as reducing wear and tear on the joints and muscular pain. For those of you who regularly exercise, it is also important to note that good posture is essential when you are working out to reduce the risk of injury.
Don’t forget, “Of all the things you wear, your posture is the most important.”