As children, we were probably all told not to slouch and to “stand up straight” by the grown ups around us.
And irritating as this may have seemed at the time, it turns out that they had a point: posture is more important than most of us realise. The alignment and position of your body is developed by a complex blend of joints, ligaments, bones and muscles, and good alignment distributes pressure across all these aspects so that no one area is overstressed.
However, few of us maintain a perfect posture at all times. Things like rounded shoulders, a flat back and a dipped head can also alter our alignment and have negative consequences for our spinal health, and these are often exacerbated by things we do every day from sleeping in certain positions to using our smartphones.
In this article the experts at Fornham Chiropractic Clinic take us through the simple yet effective ways to improve your posture no matter where you are: whether you’re at home, at work or at the gym. By persevering with these lifestyle changes, you’ll notice positive changes to your spinal health.
Gravity is a force that puts pressure on your body all the time, no matter where you are. Having a good posture means that this pressure is distributed in the way that nature intended down the length and breadth of the body, while bad posture means that some joints and muscles are having to work harder than they should.
Posture can improve your health in a number of different ways. Even the basic act of breathing can feel more difficult if your posture is poor, as being hunched over can alter the positioning of your ribcage and put excess pressure on your lungs.
Good posture can help you avoid injury. Over time, placing too much pressure on your joints causes connective tissue to wear away, meaning there is less cushioning for your bones. In the long run, this can make conditions like arthritis more likely, and it can also make you more susceptible to slipped discs or a trapped nerve.
Posture can even impact your digestion, as having a bad posture can change the alignment of your internal organs and stop them working as efficiently as they should. This can make conditions like constipation, acid reflux and hernias more commonplace.
But it isn’t just your physical health which is impacted by posture. Research shows that it also changes the way were perceived by others. Standing up straight makes us seem more confident and capable, while slumped postures are associated with people who are unhappy or introverted. Even your own mindset can be affected by your posture, as studies have shown that standing up straight can help us feel more positive and energised.
So, taking all this into account, what can you do to improve your posture no matter where you are?
Like everything, good posture starts at home. Before you leave the house, make the effort to check your posture and correct it for the day ahead. An easy way to do this is to straighten your neck and roll your shoulders back and down. This will put your ears, shoulders, hips and feet all in alignment with each other, maintaining your spine’s natural curve.
When you stand at home — whether to cook or chat — try not to put all your weight on one leg. We often find this more comfortable, but you’re actually placing unnecessary pressure on one side of your hips and lower back. The right way to stand is with your weight evenly distributed and your feet placed flat on the floor.
And being aware of your posture doesn’t stop when you start moving. Whether you’re leaving the house or just going from room to room, our posture is equally important when walking.
There are several bad posture habits associated with walking, including your head position. Try to keep your head positioned above your spine and looking straight ahead, as hunching over and looking down at your feet or your phone can lengthen your spine and round your shoulders, contributing to bad posture.
You should also try to walk with an upright spine and land your feet down heel-first, rolling forward and pushing off with the front of your foot.
One of the places we need to be most aware of our posture is in bed while we sleep. Lying on your stomach may feel comfortable, but it can put pressure on your spine, particularly your neck which is turned to one side. The best sleep position for your spine is on your back, with one pillow under your head and one under your knees. This helps to maintain your spine’s natural curvature.
Working at a desk for large chunks of time can wreak havoc on your posture. Desk jobs play a large part in the increasing number of us who lead largely sedentary lifestyle, at we’re expected to spend around eight hours a day, five days a week, sitting in a chair. This can shorten the muscles in your lower back, lengthen your neck, round your shoulders and flatten your back, all of which leads to pain and discomfort.
However, there are ways to improve your posture even while at work. Firstly, be sure to take regular movement breaks. Step away from your desk and get moving, even if it’s just a walk to the bathroom or to get a drink. Try to get outside and walk during your lunchbreak too, as this will help to loosen up your muscles and improve flexibility.
If you’re worried that you’ll forget to take a break, set yourself regular reminders.
You should also make sure that your desk is set up as well as possible to support your posture. Keep your monitor at eye level and your backrest upright. Sit with your feet firmly planted on the floor so that your lower back isn’t supporting all your weight alone.
Exercise can be a great way to combat bad posture, but you need to make sure you’re moving in the right way. For those who tend to do a lot of heavy lifting at the gym, maintaining proper form is absolutely essential, otherwise you risk injuring your lower back. For movements like deadlifts and kettlebell swings, begin the movement in a squat position with a dip in your back. This will ensure that you lift with your legs rather than your back.
When performed well, these movements can help to build strength in your core, shoulders and back, all of which is great for providing more support for good posture. Some of the best movements for correcting and maintaining your posture include planking and pull ups, so try to incorporate these into your regular workouts.
Of course, one of the most important parts of any gym routine should be to warm up and cool down effectively. Stretching out your body can help to increase mobility and flexibility, both of which make it easier to maintain a naturally good posture. Engaging in forms of exercise like yoga can help you build strength and balance, and can be performed both in the gym and at home.