There are many health benefits to having a good posture, quite aside from looking taller and more assured. Whether you are moving or standing still, knowing how to improve posture and maintain good habits can really help relieve aches and pains and enable your body to remain in good health for longer.
What is posture?
Put simply, posture is all about how you carry or position yourself. Dynamic posture describes how you hold yourself when you are moving around. It affects how you place your body when you walk, run or bend over. Static posture is all about what happens when you are still, e.g. standing, sitting, or lying down. Both areas need careful management and knowledge on how to improve posture.
Why a strong back could prevent posture injuries
The key to learning how to prevent posture injuries is your back. Your spine curves naturally at your neck, about halfway down, and at your lower back. Having the right posture controls these curves and keeps the spine in the optimum position for good long-term health.
Poor posture can lead to a bad back from a misaligned musculoskeletal system. It can also lead to neck and shoulder pain. It can affect how your joints can move and how flexible you are. At the more extreme end, poor posture can lead to frequent falls, balance problems, and interrupted digestion. You could also find it harder to breathe with poor posture.
When your posture could be at risk
It is important to consider posture all the time, not just when you are playing sports or exercising. Here are some other activities and times of day when your habits could put your posture at risk:
- Sitting down to relax e.g. watching TV or eating a meal
- Working at a desk
- Operating industrial machinery or tools
- Lifting heavy loads
- Driving for long periods of time
- Carrying heavy bags
- Wearing high heel shoes or unfamiliar footwear
- Training, playing sport or taking part in active classes
Ways to improve posture
Make a conscious effort to stand up straight and tall. Don’t slouch or slump over. Keep your shoulders back and your stomach in. Bring your weight onto the balls of your feet and let your arms hang down at your sides. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and don’t forget to move about occasionally to stretch muscles and relieve tension. Practice standing in front of a mirror to see how correct posture should look.
Change positions frequently when sitting for a long time or have a gentle stretch. You could set reminders on an alarm clock or phone to make sure you remember to do this. Don’t cross your legs, as this can restrict blood flow and make you feel off-balance. Allow your feet to touch the floor – use a footrest if necessary – and place your ankles in front of your knees. Fully support your back with a pillow or other support where available. Keep hips and thighs parallel with the floor.
- Lying down
We spend a lot of time asleep, so good posture while lying down is very important. It can prevent posture injuries and help boost circulation and release tension. Work out the most comfortable sleeping position for you. Use pillows to support body parts if necessary. For example, place a pillow between your knees if you sleep on your back to bring the back into the best position. If you lay down on your side, a pillow in the same position will help keep your hips properly aligned.
Other common posture mistakes
Wearing high heels tends to make people stick their bottom out, so try to avoid this and keep your back straight with relaxed knees. Use exercises such as hip flexor and thigh stretch to help correct this. Practice walking in your high heels at home first so that you can get used to them before taking them outside.
Never slouch in a chair, but instead sit up straight. You can do back and core strengthening exercises to help you feel more comfortable. Good ones include bridges, back extensions, and planks. This also goes for the phenomenon of rounded shoulders, which can cause posture problems over time.
Slouching when you stand makes you push your pelvis in too far and curve your back. Reverse these movements and your posture will automatically improve. Correcting this could also help relieve neck and head pain caused by repeated slouching. Again, back extensions and planks can help with this, as can pull-ups and seated rows.
Avoid the bane of ‘texting neck’ by noticing when you hunch your back and lean your head forward, e.g. to send a text. Make an effort to straighten your back and head whenever you use a phone or sit at a computer. Conversely, avoid pulling your chin out too far when concentrating on a screen or using your chin and neck to ‘cradle’ your phone. Both of these habits can cause pain over time. Pull your shoulder blades down towards your spine to straighten up your back and keep your head up so the chin is parallel to the ground. Invest in a hands-free kit for your phone.