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Why Good Posture Matters

If you are reading this, you are either sitting, standing, lying on your bed or hanging from the ceiling for all I know. But can you feel your lower back aching, your neck tense and tight, or your shoulders feeling a bit stiff? Well, here is a piece of news for you: it’s probably your poor posture that’s doing this. It might seem trivial but according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, ‘about 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetimes.’ Maintaining correct posture can go a long way toward relieving all these symptoms.

Before we even start talking about the importance of good posture, let’s see what we mean by it.

What is good posture?

People always told you to sit up straight and thrust your chest forward, pushing your shoulders back and holding your chin high. Is that it? Of course it’s not.

Put simply, good posture means you are holding your body the right way so that your spine stays in the right position. Looking from the side, our spine should have three curves shaped like the letter ‘S’ – one at the neck, one at the shoulders, and one at the lower back. Any deviance from this S-shaped posture puts stress on our joints and muscles, leading to many health complications that extend far beyond a simple back or neck pain.

Why is good posture important?

Good posture increases flexibility. Our flexibility is our body’s ability to cope with and adapt to stresses it encounters – lifting heavy boxes, sitting long hours, or slouching in front of a computer, to name a few. If not maintained, our posture makes our muscles work harder to maintain a proper form all the while other muscles stay inhibited and deteriorate over time or else stiffen and become tense.

Good posture makes us resistant to injuries. Poor posture impairs our skeletal system’s ability to deal with the forces affecting it, weakens our mobility and misaligns our musculoskeletal system. These dysfunctional adaptations make us prone to accidents induced by a lack of mobility and coordination.

Good posture keeps our lungs healthy. In this day and age, we can hardly go about without casting a glance on our smartphone every now and then. Our necks are usually bent forward, which strains the local group of muscles centered around it. According to a study called ‘Effect of sitting posture on respiratory function while using a smartphone’ published by the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, ‘weakness of the deep neck flexor and extensor muscles can lead to reduced stability of the cervical [neck] and thoracic [abdomen] spine, as well as changes in rib cage biomechanics.’ Such changes reduce respiratory performance, among other things.

Good posture beats fatigue. When our muscles stay in an awkward position for too long, they strain to keep our posture as proper as possible. The more strain we put on them, the more energy they burn to do that. As a consequence, they are not used efficiently enough and their potential is wasted on maintaining the muscular alignment. This is why we feel tired, fatigued, and apathetic.

Good posture puts less stress on our joints and ligaments. Our joints wear out over time. Poor posture induces wear and tear on our joints and ligaments and rapidly increases the process of deterioration. If our posture is even, it decreases the stress on the ligaments and joints of the spine.

Good posture keeps headaches at bay. Tension headaches are increasingly present in modern society and researchers have discovered a close link between bad posture and migraines. Slouching accumulates tension in the muscles centered around your neck and head. Each time you bend your neck forward and keep it in that position for a while, the muscles strain to keep your head up. On average, a human head weighs around 12 pounds. When bent, ‘the weight on the cervical spine can be as much as 60 pounds, depending on the degree at which the neck is tilted. In fact, when our necks are at just a 15-degree angle, the weight on the cervical spine more than doubles to 27 pounds.’ (Heads up! “Text Neck” Could Ruin Your Posture)

And last but not least, good posture makes us look and FEEL good! Apart from the obvious reasons for concealing our tummy bump and making us look taller, good posture has benefits that extend far beyond the physical. Did you know that participants of a study reported higher levels of confidence in their own thoughts when they were standing upright as opposed to standing in a slouched posture? Apparently, maintaining a proper posture not only makes you feel good about yourself but it makes you more confident in your own thoughts, ideas, and feelings.

How to maintain good posture?

If you don’t want to give yourself a headache (pun intended), you should make slight changes to your daily routines that can improve your posture and consequently, your overall health.

When sitting, your neck should be vertical and your shoulders relaxed in a neutral position. Arms and elbows should be close to your trunk and knees bent at a 90-degree angle, with your feet flat on the ground. That way, you are putting even weight on both hips instead of overloading just one (which happens when sitting with legs crossed, for example).

In order to maintain the natural ‘S’ curve of your spine, support your lower back with a back pad if your chair doesn’t already have supporting pads. Your hips and thighs must be supported at all times with a well-padded seat parallel to the floor (not tilted in any direction).

When standing, your knees should be slightly bent and your feet and earlobes aligned with your shoulders so that they form a straight line. Thrusting your abdomen or your chest too much is not the way to go – aim for a neutral position. If you have to stand for a long time, make sure to make slight movements every minute by shifting the weight from one foot to another.

Even with good posture, being stationary for long periods of time is just as detrimental to your health, maybe even worse. That’s why you should perform stretching exercises whenever you can. Stretch your neck muscles, twist your torso, thrust your hips forwards and backward, or stretch your pectoral muscles and chest by holding your hands outstretched behind you, to name a few.

Lastly, keeping a close eye on your posture doesn’t only include standing or sitting. You can tweak your posture by placing a pillow or a pad between your knees when sleeping on the side or putting one right below the knees when lying on your back.

Always remember that proper posture is not an easy fix. It is a skill you perfect throughout your life. Make a mental note to check your posture every half an hour if you get forgetful and, of course, stay active.

Here’s how to perform simple stretching exercises in your office:

Additional reading:

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