Good posture does more than just bring your body into proper alignment, it can also bring a whole host of other benefits such as improving confidence, flexibility, athletic performance and overall well-being.
When we practice good posture, the muscles, ligaments, joints, and skeleton are in balance; that is, no one part of the musculoskeletal system is bearing more than its fair share of your body weight.
Poor posture, on the other hand, places excess stress on the spine and contributes to muscle imbalances, chronic pain, and degenerative diseases of the joints.
There are many factors that contribute to poor posture, including age, stress, weak postural muscles, pregnancy, unhealthy sitting habits (such as slouching), and wearing the wrong type of shoes.
The good news is that posture can be improved at any age by making just a few simple corrections to the way one stands, sits, and moves.
Below are some of the most important benefits of maintaining proper posture as well as a few simple tips for improving your postural habits.
1. Increases Confidence
When you stand up straight with your shoulders back and your head held high, you appear more attractive and confident to others.
Poor posture, on the other hand, can make you look weak, tired, and self-conscious.
But the link between posture and confidence doesn’t end there.
According to researchers at Ohio State University and the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain, our body not only influences how other people see us, but it also influences how we feel about ourselves.
Richard Petty, professor of psychology at Ohio State University, and Pablo Briñol, a former postdoctoral fellow at Ohio State University, studied 71 students who were instructed to sit in front of a computer terminal while adopting one of four postures: sitting up straight, sitting with their chest pushed forward, sitting with their face turned down toward their knees, or sitting slouched forward.
While sitting in these positions, the students completed a survey in which they listed their positive and negative traits with respect to their professional performance.
The students were then asked to take another survey in which they rated themselves based on how well they believed they would perform in a future job.
The researchers found that the students who maintained an upright posture seemed more confident in their self-evaluation, whether the evaluation was positive or negative.
The students who adopted slumped postures, on the other hand, expressed less confidence in their own ratings, even when the ratings were positive.
2. Good Posture Helps Reduce Back Pain
Good posture is necessary to keep the structures of the back and spine in proper alignment and maintain a healthy curvature to the vertebral column.
A healthy spine in a neutral posture has a slight “S” curve when viewed from the side.
The cervical spine, or neck, naturally curves inward. This anterior curving is called lordosis.
The thoracic spine, which makes up most of the torso, curves outward.
This is also known as a kyphotic curve.
The lumbar spine, which comprises the lower back region, follows the same creature as the cervical spine.
This S-shaped curvature to the spine helps distribute your weight evenly across your body and minimize stress on your muscles and joints.
While more research is needed to clarify the association between posture and lower back pain, experts believe that sitting in a slumped position over a long period of time causes distortions to the spine and increases the likelihood that an individual will experience lower back pain.
It is also thought that a slumped posture may contribute to the lengthening or shortening of the back muscles, degeneration of the joints, muscle spasms, and disc problems, all of which can result in low back pain.
3. Increases Flexibility and Range of Motion
When we speak of flexibility, we’re referring to the mobility or range of motion (ROM) of the muscles and joints.
Muscles often work in antagonistic pairs.
This means that as one muscle contracts, the opposite muscle relaxes to accommodate the movement.
The biceps and triceps are an example of an antagonistic muscle pair.
As you contract the acting, or agonist, muscle (the bicep) to pull something toward you, the antagonist muscle (tricep) muscle relaxes to accommodate the movement.
Poor posture promotes muscle imbalances that can lead to the excessive tightening or over-stretching of the muscles.
When this happens, range of motion is affected.
Overly shortened and tight hip muscles, for example, pull your upper body forward, disrupting the natural curve of the spine.
Similarly, overly tight pectoral muscles cause the shoulders to become rounded, resulting in a slumped posture and decreased range of motion of the neck.
4. Improves Natural Balance
Good posture helps you maintain your balance as you walk.
This ability to maintain proper balance and gait (asking) mechanics is the key to preventing falls as you age.
This ability to stay upright is especially important for elderly women, who are more susceptible to osteoarthritis and are therefore at a greater risk of sustaining a serious injury due to a fall.
Studies show that stretching and weight shifting exercises can help improve balance and mobility and may reduce the risk of falls in older adults.
5. Increases Lung Capacity
Feeling short of breath? Maintaining good posture can help increase your lung capacity.
In order to understand the link between posture and breathing, it’s important to consider how the respiratory organs work.
When you breathe air in, your diaphragm – the dome-shaped muscle under your rib cage – pushes down like a plunger in order to create room for your lungs to fill.
At the same time, your scalene muscles and the muscles between your ribs (intercostals) help left and open your ribcage.
This expansion of the ribcage is necessary in order for the lungs to fully inflate.
If the lungs don’t have enough room to inflate fully, the diaphragm and other respiratory muscles will need to work harder to maintain your breathing.
According to researchers at Northwestern University’s Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences, good posture has a direct positive effect on lung capacity.
The researchers studied the randomly assumed postures of seventy able-bodied subjects. Some of the subjects were sitting normally, while others were standing or leaning against the backrest of a seat.
The study concluded that exploratory flow was significantly superior in subjects who were standing than in those who were sitting normally or in a slumped position.
6. Improves Digestive Function
Good posture is thought to play an important role in the proper functioning of the digestive system.
Researchers from Japan performed a study on two groups of women to observe the effects of posture on digestion.
They found that the women who lay down after eating a meal digested their food more efficiently and experienced significantly less malabsorption than the women who sat up following a meal.
Another study conducted by the same researchers found that lying down improved carbohydrate malabsorption, including FODMAP sensitivity and lactose intolerance.
The researchers’ hypothesis that laying down after a meal switches off the body’s fight-or-flight instinct and allows the body to shift into “rest and digest” mode.
Lying down also aligned the body properly, allowing for optimal breathing, blood flow, and functioning of the digestive organs).
Proper posture also helps alleviate bloating and gas by strengthening the diaphragm and other core muscles.
One study found that poor posture constricted the movement of the diaphragm and pushed the abdominal organs together, resulting in bloating and distension.
7. Improves Your Mood
According to Erik Peper, PhD, professor of Health Education at San Francisco State University, maintaining proper posture can help improve your energy levels and mood.
Peper studied 110 students who were instructed to either skip down a hallway or walk down the hallway in a slumped position.
After walking down the hallway, the students were asked to rate their energy level.
The survey found that slouched walking decreased energy levels across the entire group.
Skipping, on the other hand, increased energy levels for the whole group.
Students were also asked to rate their level of depression before and after walking down the hallway.
Students who were depressed at the beginning of the study reported increased feelings of depression after walking in a slouched manner.
The study concluded that that depression and energy levels are affected not only by our thoughts and experiences, but also by our body movement and posture.
Another study, published in Health Psychology, found that maintaining good posture plays a role in the regulation of emotions.
The study involved 74 participants who were randomly instructed to adopt either an upright or slumped seated posture.
Researchers then measured the participants’ cardiovascular responses to a psychologically stressful task.
The participants who were sitting upright reported higher self-esteem, a better mood, and less fear than the participants who had been instructed to sit in a slumped position.
The slumped participants, on the other hand, experienced more negative thoughts and emotions than those who had been sitting upright.
Participants who were sitting upright also had lower heart rates and blood pressure measurements than the slumped participants.
8. Improves Focus
It is estimated that 25 per cent of all of the oxygen in the body is utilized by the brain.
As we have seen already, good posture encourages proper breathing, which is essential to deliver vital oxygen, blood, and nutrients to the brain.
What’s more, posture is thought to influence our decision-making and leadership abilities.
A study conducted by researchers from Columbia and Harvard Universities collected saliva samples from participants to measure their tendency toward risk-taking while assuming expansive, constricted, and powerful postures.
It was found that the participants who had adopted expansive postures – that is, postures in which the individuals occupied maximum space – had lower levels of cortisol (C) and higher levels of testosterone (T) than those with constricted postures.
Higher levels of testosterone are associated with enhanced resistance to illness and improved leadership abilities.
Another study, conducted by researchers from Stanford University took these findings even further by demonstrating that posture may even be the most significant predictor of leadership ability.
The study concluded that simply adopting a high-power pose can increase one’s sense of power and tolerance for risk-taking.
9. Reduces Neck Pain
Most incidences of neck pain that are not the result of trauma are caused by postural problems.
This is because poor posture distorts the natural curve of the spine below the cervical region.
Improper alignment of the head and spine places significant strain on the muscles of the neck (the levator, pectoralis minor muscles, scalene muscles, scapulae muscles, suboccipital muscles, and subscapularis muscles).
Improper posture also leads to a common condition called forward head posture, in which the neck slants in front of the shoulders.
Powers head posture is usually accompanied by a hunched back and rounded shoulders, which further exacerbate neck and shoulder pain.
10. Fewer Headaches
Most people understand the importance of maintaining good posture when it comes to preventing back pain, but did you know that practising proper posture can also help alleviate the pain associated with migraines and tension headaches?
In order to understand how poor posture contributes to headaches, it’s important to consider the structure of the head and neck.
Your brainstem runs through a hole at the base of your skull called the Foremen Magnum and continues all the way down through the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar regions of the spine.
Any tension placed on the spine impacts the brainstem directly.
In the case of forward head posture, for example, a distortion of the normal curve of the cervical spine places excess pressure on the brainstem.
This can result in an increase in tension headaches.
11. Healthier Joints
Maintaining good posture prevents excessive strain on the bones and joints.
Poor posture, on the other hand, places excessive stress on the joints, which can lead to increased knee, hip, foot and shoulder pain.
It is believed that maintaining poor posture over a long period of time can also accelerate degenerative diseases like osteoarthritis.
That’s Great… But How Can I Have Good Posture?
As you can see from the points above, there are many good reasons to maintain proper posture.
Fortunately, posture can be improved at any age simply by making a few adjustments in the way you sit, stand, and lie down.
With practice, these adjustments will become automatic and eventually replace your old postural habits.
The American Chiropractic Association provides the following tips for improving your posture.
- Avoid crossing your legs.
- Ensure your ankles remain in front of your knees.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.
- Vary your position when sitting for long periods of time.
- Adjust the backrest of your chair to support the curve of your spine. Alternatively, you can use a lumbar back support cushion.
- Maintain a small gap between the front of your seat and the backs of your knees.
- When working at a desk, keep your shoulders relaxed, your elbows close to your body, and your forearms parallel to the ground.
- Engage your abdominal muscles.
- Knees should be relaxed and slightly bent.
- Make sure your head remains in line with your shoulders.
- Allow your arms to hang naturally at your sides.
- Keep your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Pull your shoulders back.
- Shift your weight from one foot to the other or from your heels to the balls of the feet if you need to stand for a prolonged period of time.
When Lying Down:
- Avoid sleeping on your front. Sleeping on your back or side is ideal, especially if you suffer from back pain.
- Place a pillow under or between your knees, depending on your sleeping position.
- Use a pillow under your head.
- Choose the right mattress for your desired level of comfort. Some people find that a firm mattress helps reduce back pain, while others prefer a firmer mattress.
The key to improving posture is maintaining a conscious awareness of how you sit, stand, and move.
Keep in mind that these suggestions are not intended to replace professional medical advice.
If you’re experiencing chronic pain due to postural problems, consult with a physician to rule out a more serious underlying issue.
The Added Importance of Stretching and Corrective Exercises
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that postural problems that have been allowed to develop over a long period of time will take longer to correct than positions that have been adopted over a shorter period of time.
If you’re experiencing poor posture due to decreased flexibility, a work injury, or abnormally tight muscles, a physician or chiropractor can assist you by recommending exercises to stretch and strengthen your postural muscles.
Start Working on Your Posture Today!
Maintaining proper posture can have a significant impact on the way you look, feel, and even breathe.
By making simple changes to the way you sit, stand, and move around, you can avoid developing postures that place undue strain on your muscles, ligaments, joints, and nerves.
Put the above tips into practice to improve your posture today and reap the benefits of a stronger, more balanced, and pain-free body.
Related: How to improve your posture