How to get better posture and maintain it gets more important as we get older. In fact, we know that good posture is actually life-extending. So we are going to take a fresh look at it here.
We’ll define what good posture is and why it is so important to us. And then we’ll see how we can improve it by:
- Making good posture a habit as we go about our daily living.
- Doing formal yoga-type exercises designed to help our posture.
- Practicing Tai Chi.
- Studying the Alexander Technique.
- Using external aids to good posture.
All of this is designed to make good posture become a natural part of our lives.
Why is good posture important?
We were all born with perfect posture. But, unfortunately, over time and through poor physical habits, almost all of us lose it to some degree. A lot of this has to do with the sedentary lives we lead and the amount of time we spend on our screens.
This has a bad effect on our musculoskeletal system and consequential effects on our overall physical and mental well-being.
So getting good posture is really no more than regaining what we once had.
Social and business benefits of good posture
First, let’s not discount the fact that proper posture just makes us look good. This is important in its own right. We all recognize that a person who stands tall and erect makes a favorable impression.
Posture is part of our body language. Someone with a presence always has good posture. In other words, our posture affects how other people perceive us.
A “power posture,’” which is as simple as standing straight with shoulders back, chest open, and head held high, makes us look and feel confident and engaged. We seem to radiate energy.
But if we are slouching as we stand, with hunched shoulders and sunken chest, we are signaling disinterest and even defeat, both to ourselves and others.
And who can fail to notice the awesome, room-commanding posture of a trained dancer?
Physical benefits of good posture
But having good posture is about a lot more than looking good. Holding to a good posture and learning to maintain it unconsciously help us develop flexibility, strength, and balance in our bodies.
Good posture reduces stress on muscles and ligaments and this results in less muscle pain and greater feelings of energy.
Conscious efforts to improve our posture help us become more aware of our bodies, and especially the workings of our muscles and joints. And this awareness can guide us into doing what needs to be improved in our posture.
Many problems can arise out of a poor posture. Because according to studies,
- 65% of workplace injuries involve a back injury.
- 33% of seniors will fall each year and a half will fall again.
- 60% of computer office workers suffer from repetitive strain injury.
- 80% of all people will at some time suffer episodes of back pain.
And a great deal of this can be attributed to poor posture
Mind and mood benefits of good posture
Posture affects our mood. It affects not only how others perceive us but also, subconsciously, how we perceive ourselves.
In 2015 Health Psychology published the results of body posture experiments. These experiments, on 74 participants, measured the effects of a slumped versus upright posture on blood pressure, heart rate, and speech patterns.
The results concluded that an upright posture is associated with better self-esteem, greater resilience to stress, better mood, and lower fear. It also increases the rate of speech and reduces self-focus.
The study seems to give strong support to the intuitive knowledge that a good posture is good for our mind and mood.
Posture is defined as how we hold our bodies in the course of our daily physical activities of standing, walking, sitting, lifting, and lying down.
What is good posture?
Good posture is managing our bodies as we stand, walk, sit, lift, and lie down in such a way that there is the least strain on supporting muscles and ligaments as we do it.
But before we set about improving our posture, we need to become posture aware.
How to get better posture aware
First, we must become posture conscious. We need to be aware of just how we stand, sit, and carry ourselves throughout the day. We need to make this a posture-conscious habit.
Second, as we become more aware of our posture, we must then make a habit out of the corrections we make to our posture during the day.
Here is a cool way to check our posture. For a do-it-yourself posture check, get the Posture Zone app. Using this and your smartphone you can check your posture and follow your progress as your posture improves.
But we don’t need an app to check our postures by comparing them to universally recognized correct postures.
Types of postures
There is a correct posture or “form” for everything we do. However, form is more related to how we perform physical exercises than it is with the basic and more static postures of daily living. We’ll describe these here.
Correct standing posture
Here is a side-by-side comparison of good (left) and bad (right) standing postures.
You can draw yourself into a correct standing posture by doing this:
Imagine That there is a string attached to the top of your head above your ears. The string is pulling straight up as if you were being lifted off the ground. And your body is relaxed.
The result should be a straight line running vertically through your ankles, hips, shoulders, and ears.
Here are some tips to achieve a great standing posture:
- Keep your weight evenly on the balls of your feet.
- Knees should be slightly bent (not locked).
- The feet should be about shoulder-width apart.
- Shoulders are relaxed. Do a shoulder shrug and let them drop.
- Arms should hang naturally at your sides.
- Keep your head level.
As your core muscles respond to this, you should feel your chest lift gently upwards.
Correct sitting posture
Many of us spend a great deal of time at our office desks. And this can lead to posture problems unless we pay attention to what we are doing.
If we get tired, our bodies tend to hunch forward along with our heads, and this can put a strain on our necks. It will also constrict our breathing and digestion.
The experts offer these tips for a good sitting posture.
- The feet should be flat on the floor or a footrest.
- No crossing ankles or knees.
- A small gap between the chair and the back of the knees.
- Ankles in front of the knees.
- Shoulders relaxed.
- Knees and forearms parallel to the floor.
- Elbows close to the sides.
- Sitting up straight.
- Lower back against the chair
Move around a bit every 20 minutes or so and take 10-minute breaks every hour or so.
And if you are working with a computer, your eyes should be level with the top of the screen and the screen tilted slightly back.
Correct walking posture
A correct walking posture is just an extension of the correct standing posture.
Be mindful of how you walk and pay attention to these tips:
- Remain upright. No leaning forward.
- Shoulders are relaxed (use shoulder shrugs and then let them drop down into a natural position).
- Engage the core. Do this by pulling your belly button back towards your spine.
- Swing the arms naturally from the shoulders.
- Don’t look down. It will strain your neck. Watch the ground at least 20 feet ahead.
- Step evenly from heel to toe and don’t take long strides.
Walking correctly takes time and practice. But there are great benefits. They include:
- Less strain on muscles and ligaments.
- Conserving energy.
- Improved lung health, circulation, and digestion.
- Greater strength in core muscles.
- Better balance.
Correct lifting posture
Yes. Safely lifting something heavy requires an appropriate posture. If you just bend over and lift a load off the ground, you are inviting a back injury or strained muscle.
So here is the correct posture and technique for lifting a heavy object off the ground.
- Keep your back straight.
- Keep your feet spread apart for a base of support.
- Bend at the knees.
- Get close to the load.
- Get a grip on the load.
- Tighten the stomach muscles.
- Lift by straightening legs and hips.
- Change direction with your feet (not back) and take small steps.
Above all, don’t strain. If the object is too heavy, get help
Correct smart device posture
Bad smartphone habits result in a “slump” that causes neck pain, back pain, and headaches. It can cause stress in our upper back, shoulders, and arms. It’s become known as “text neck.”
Our heads are heavy. They weigh in at around 10 to 11pounds when in a neutral position, properly balanced on our necks. But when we bend our heads15 degrees forward, the effective weight doubles.
And when our heads tilt forward 45 degrees, the effective weight gets to nearly 50 pounds! This is the law of mechanics in operation.
It puts tremendous strain on our necks and causes neck, shoulder, and back pain. In addition, it can cause headaches and curvature of the spine.
So what do we need to do about it in practice?
- Sit or stand straight with our heads in a chin-up, neutral position.
- Hold our smart devices level with our eyes.
- Hold the device with both hands.
- Do some relieving exercises like chin tucks, neck tilts, and head turns.
- Don’t use smart devices for an extended period. If there’s a lot of online work to do, transfer to a computer.
Correct driving posture
The typical car seat is not ergonomically correct. And, aside from sitting, the dynamics of a moving car (motion and vibration) can cause problems for the back, especially the discs between vertebrae.
Common driving complaints are low back pain, stiff shoulders, and sore neck.
So what do we do about maintaining ergonomics in the car? Here are some tips.
- Add back support with a lumbar pillow at the curve of the back.
- Position the seat so that the knees are level with or slightly higher than the hips.
- Tilt the seat so that the shoulders are slightly behind the hips.
- Move the seat such that you can depress the foot pedal all the way with your knees bent.
- Maintain good sitting posture as described above.
- Take breaks and do some stretching when stuck in heavy traffic.
Correct sleeping posture
A good sleeping posture helps our backs and health generally. This is a surprisingly little-known fact. But it should not be a surprise, considering we spend one-third of our lives asleep.
Over time, people develop their own preferences for a sleep position, but it has been found that some positions are better for you than others. However, the common denominator is that a firm mattress is better for the spine than a soft and saggy one.
From bad to best, common sleeping positions rank as follows.
Lying on the stomach: This helps with sleep apnea but can cause neck and back pain, as a result of the head being turned to the side for extended periods.
Fetal position: This is good for lower back pain and can reduce snoring. But a tight fetal position can leave you feeling sore in the morning.
Sleeping on the side: This is helpful for snoring and it’s good for digestion. But it can cause shoulder and jaw stiffness on the downward side. Help this with a good pillow.
Sleeping on the back: This is considered best overall (although there are some that favor side sleeping). This is because the spine is kept aligned. However, it is not so good for sleep apnea. The best pillow for back sleeping is a small pillow that fits under the neck.
What about lounging in bed to watch the TV? It’s not good for your posture. Even if you are propped up on pillows, it can put a strain on your neck and lower back.
How to get better posture with exercise
Now that we have covered our postures, their importance, and posture consciousness, we’ll turn to the exercises that can support our efforts.
As we describe these exercises, you will see that they are Yoga postures. And they may seem difficult at first. But the point is that you should approach them carefully and gradually. Check out our post on Yoga Practice for Beginners.
The first rule of exercise is to never force anything. Or you may injure yourself. After all, the whole purpose of all this is to help not to hurt. The photos are of highly trained people. Getting to their level takes time.
By the way, if these yoga poses seem too difficult for you, don’t worry. You will find an excellent alternative in tai chi, which we touch on further below.
The side plank helps maintain a properly neutral alignment of the legs and spine. It does this by strengthening the muscles in the sides and glutes. This supports the back and improves posture. Hold this pose for 30 seconds.
The high plank strengthens shoulders, glutes, and hamstrings. It helps relieve stiffness and pain all through the body. It also helps develop strength and balance in the core and neck. All of this is good for our posture. Hold this pose for one minute.
The child’s pose is a resting pose that lengthens and stretches out the spine, hamstrings, and glutes. It relieves tension in the neck and lower back. This is a relaxing pose that you can hold for 5 minutes.
The downward dog is just a forward bending pose. It balances out the body and relieves back pain, while aligning and strengthening the muscles in the back. Hold this pose for one minute.
The forward fold is a standing stretch that releases tension in the hamstrings, glutes, and spine. Hold the pose for one minute.
The cat-cow stretch massages the spine and relieves tension in the shoulders, neck, and core. Alternate between these poses slowly for about one minute.
You can execute these same poses in a standing position to relieve tightness in the glutes, hips, and back.
Start lying on your front. With palms on the floor straighten the arms. Hold for up to 30 seconds. This strengthens the spine and stretches the chest, shoulders, and abdomen.
Now we switch from yoga to tai chi.
Tai Chi is a wonderful, almost lifestyle, way to get better posture and much more besides. It is a whole subject in itself and beyond the scope of this post. But here is an excellent and quite brief introduction to proper posture the tai chi way from Harvard.
Tai chi is something we personally prefer to yoga and find to be a really good way to gain better balance. You are sure to be able to find a tai chi class near you.
How to get better posture: resources
This post is already long enough. But we don’t want to leave without mentioning some great aids to posture.
The Alexander Technique
The Alexander Technique is worth a whole post on its own. Many people use it. And it is very telling that professional dancers and singers swear by It. It is through achieving excellent posture that they can improve the delivery of their art.
Here is a brief video introduction to the Alexander Technique.
And there is good information on the Alexander Technique here on Kindle.
Physical posture aids
And we personally like the Upright GO because it is a much less awkward reminder to pay attention to our posture. And you can create your own personal training programs.
Conclusions on how to get better posture
Everything we have advocated here is in the cause of making good posture a natural part of our lives. If we work at it persistently and consistently, better posture can become a habit that we don’t even have to consciously think about anymore.
And that is what we want. And it is within our reach. Because, as we mentioned at the beginning, this is no more than just regaining the natural posture we had when we were very young.