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What is correct posture?
Posture is the position you maintain – essentially how you hold your body. Dynamic posture is how you hold yourself when you are moving, like when you are walking, running or bend over to pick up something. Static posture is how you hold yourself when you are not moving, like when you are standing, sitting, or sleeping.
You have correct posture when your position creates the least amount of strain on supporting muscles, ligaments and joints whilst standing, sitting, lying down or doing any other activity. The key to correct posture is the position of your spine. Your spine has three natural curves – at your neck, mid back, and low back. Correct posture should maintain these curves, but not increase them. Your head should be above your shoulders, and the top of your shoulder should be over the hips.
Correct posture not so common
As kids we are often taught and reminded of the importance of correct posture, however as we age we are less mindful of our posture (low postural awareness). Unfortunately, we live in a forward-leaning society – spending much of our time sitting – either in the car, on the train, at work on our desks all day, at school, on the couch or glued to our smartphones. The result being that most of us have poor or incorrect posture.
Why is having correct posture important?
*Decreases your chance of injury, muscle pain and other problems – by keeping your bones and joints in proper alignment, decreasing joint compression and allowing you to use your muscles more efficiently. This prevents muscle aches/strain and fatigue/overuse and is essential for avoiding neck, back and shoulder pain including headaches, as well as arthritis, spinal/disk problems and constricted blood vessels and nerves, as well as tendonitis and bone spurs. Good posture also increases your balance and decreases your chance of falling.
*Increases oxygen and helps all bodily systems to operate smoothly – breath is life, and good posture helps to open the airways and ensure proper breathing. Proper breathing allows enhanced oxygen flow to the nervous system, organs and other tissues, so that they all function effectively.
*Decreases stress and better mood – poor posture creates unnecessary stress and strains your body including your spine, which can make you feel heavy, achy, tired and irritable. It also decreases your digestion which is linked to your mood – did you know that more endorphins can be released from your gut than your brain? All of these things combined often lead to increased stress, anxiety and depression. Good posture on the other hand, stimulates physiological arousal, such as a spike in blood pressure, and triggers a coping response to stress. The result is increased resilience and better mood. This is common sense really, given that the body follows the mind, and the mind follows the body. Try it now – adopt a depressed mind-state by thinking of something that gets you down, and see what happens to your body. Now do the opposite with a super excited mind-state – what happens? Your body follows your mind, so you go from a closed posture to an open one. Next time you want to kick your negative mood, start with fixing your posture first.
*Helps you look and feel good – maintaining good posture helps increase your physical appearance because by avoiding slouching, you look taller, slimmer and stronger. The result being a more attractive, more comfortable and more confident you.
How can you improve your posture?
Here are a few of the best ways to improve your posture:
*Stay active: All types of exercise generally help to improve posture, but some are especially beneficial. This includes exercise such as weight training, yoga, pilates, as well as any other movement which focuses on body awareness. Cardiovascular exercise such as rowing and swimming can also be beneficial. Regardless of what type of exercise you do, always ensure to include exercises which strengthen your core (muscles around your back, abdomen, and pelvis) as these play an essential role in the maintenance of good posture.
*Stretch more: This goes hand in hand with staying active, but stretching is of paramount importance when it comes to having great posture. Try to stretch for at least 5-10 minutes per day or more, on most days of the week. If you do activities such as yoga and pilates, stretching is already built in. It’s also a good idea to get a massage every so often, because sometimes no amount of stretching can release locked up or worn out muscles. Besides, it’s wonderful for total body rejuvenation including mental stress release too.
*Maintain a healthy weight: Excess fat can weaken your abdominal muscles, cause problems for your pelvis and spine, and contribute to low back pain, sore hips, knees and anything else. All of these can hurt your posture, so if you are overweight, then losing weight may be the best thing you can do to fix your posture.
*Sleep on your side: The best position to sleep on is usually on your side, with a well-supported pillow for your head, and an additional pillow down by your side to support the leg not resting on the mattress. Not only is it better for your posture, but it is also better for your breathing and digestion too – particularly if you lie on your left side. Sleeping on your back is not advised, however sleeping on your stomach does the most damage to your posture – putting strain on the muscles of the head, neck, jaw and can also put out your lower back and pelvis.
*Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes: High heels, can tighten your calves, throw off your balance and force you to change your gait/walk differently. This puts more stress on your muscles and can damage your posture.
*Be mindful of your posture: Be mindful of your posture during everyday activities, like watching television, eating dinner, or walking. The more aware of your posture you are, the more quickly it improves.
*Sit Properly: Some things we can do to improve the way we sit include:
- Don’t sit for too long – it’s called the 20-10 rule… Sit for 20min, stand for 8min and walk for 2. You can also gently stretch your muscles to help relieve muscle tension at the same time.
- Make sure that your feet touch the floor – if this is not possible, use a footrest.
- Don’t cross your legs – instead, keep your feet on the floor, with your ankles in front of your knees.
- Make sure that your back is fully supported – use a back pillow or other back support if your chair does not have a backrest that can support your lower back’s curve (either a small rolled up towel, or commercial product).
- Change the way you sit – a great way to do this throughout the day, is to try to alternate your chair with a fit-ball to activate your core/postural muscles and prevent them from wasting away. This could be for an hour in the morning and then again in the afternoon. You can also perform simple strength movements like balancing on one leg and figures 8’s as you sit. You just need to ensure that you choose the right size ball so that your thighs and hips are parallel to the floor or that your hips are slightly higher (<145cm tall = 45cm ball, 140-165cm = 55cm ball, 165-195cm = 65cm ball, >195cm = 85cm ball).
- Relax your shoulders – instead of rounding your shoulders, gently pull them back, whilst at the same time keeping them relaxed/depressed.
- Keep your elbows close to your body – they should be bent between 90 and 120 degrees.
- Make sure that your thighs and hips are supported – you should have a well-padded seat, and your thighs and hips should be parallel to the floor. You may need a footrest to keep your hips and knees level.
- Setup your computer screen correctly – instead of adjusting your posture to suit the position of our computer screen, adjust the screen itself so that the centre of it sits at eye-level.
*Improve the way you stand:
- Stand up straight and tall – keep your shoulders back but relaxed with your head level.
- Pull your stomach in – activate your core and let your arms hang down naturally by your sides.
- Put slightly more weight on the balls of your feet – rather than on your heels, whilst ensuring that your knees don’t buckle in/no knock-knees.
- Keep your feet about shoulder width apart – and facing straight ahead to avoid internally or externally rotating the hips.
- When using a standing desk – position the screen so that the centre of it is at eye-level just like sitting posture.
Where to get help
If you need further help with achieving better posture, then consult your local Personal Trainer, Exercise Scientist/Physiologist, Osteopath, Physiotherapist or Chiropractor. Things like the Alexander Technique are also excellent, otherwise you can speak to your Doctor who can put you into contact with someone who can help.
Q.Do you have poor posture and if so, then what things will you start doing to improve it?
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