Stand up straight! Shoulders back, chin up, stomach in! When we think of posture, we think of someone older barking commands at us, but the fact is good posture has a huge impact on our health and wellbeing.
The human body was designed by nature to spend most of it’s time standing up, walking to find food and lying down to sleep. It was never designed to sit in chairs for long hours with the upper body slumped unsupported. When standing and walking, the spine is held in its natural neutral position by the core muscle of the abdomen and back. If it weren’t for the fact that we spend so much time sitting, the core would maintain it’s strength and many problems would be avoided.
To see what good posture looks like, just look at a young child – their back has a graceful ‘S’ curve and their movements are easy and effortless. As we get older, we develop bad habits such as slouching. This and inactivity causes loss of muscle strength leading to fatigue and tension that ultimately lead to poor posture.
Bad posture also has psychological effects. It’s clear that feeling restricted and stiff in your body is going to lead to some depression whereas being upright; feeling free and moving effortlessly is going to enhance feelings of wellbeing and power.
Good posture feels effortless; this is why traditional rules like pushing your shoulders back and sticking out your chest can be uncomfortable. By listening to your body you can make small adjustments while standing and sitting to find positions that feel easy and graceful. It is important to develop a habit of regularly tuning in to your body. If you feel muscle tension or fatigue, move into another position.
Here are some suggestions on how to improve your posture:
Remember the rule of ‘curve reversal’ – for example, if you’ve been leaning over your desk, stretch back the other way.
Perform stretching exercises two or three times a week to boost muscle flexibility.
Exercise regularly to improve muscle strength and tone.
Stretch your neck muscles regularly by turning your head from one side to another.
Your abdominal muscles support your lower back, so make sure they are in good condition. Do ‘abdominal crunches’ (lie on your back and curl your ribcage and pelvis as close together as possible) rather than straight-backed sit-ups (which exercise the muscles of the hips and thighs).
Avoid standing on one foot for long periods of time.
Cross your legs at the ankle, rather than the knee.
Avoid sitting in soft, squashy chairs.
Make sure your mattress is supportive enough to keep your spine straight when lying on your side.
Use a pillow that supports your neck.
Keep your back straight and use your thigh muscles when lifting heavy weights.
Symptoms of bad posture:
Bent knees when standing or walking
Head that either leans forward or backward
Joint aches and pains
See your doctor, physiotherapist, chiropractor or Alexander technique teacher for further information and advice.