How many times did we hear from our parents when we were children, “sit up straight”? Our parents were not telling us to do this merely to keep us from looking like a boiled noodle. Good posture is important for a variety of health reasons as well. It helps us to breathe properly, increases concentration, reduces the risk of neck and back pain and increases our sense of well-being.
And yet most people have bad posture. It is not surprising, given how many hours we spend sitting at a desk. Both bad ergonomics and the number of hours spent sitting without getting up and moving around has led to an epidemic of bad posture – and subsequently many cases of back and neck pain.
According to Dr. Roger Sperry, who received a Nobel Prize for brain research, “The more mechanically distorted a person is, the less energy is available for thinking, metabolism and healing.” Proper posture opens the airways and expands the rib cage, allowing us to breathe more deeply. Our lung capacity is reduced by as much as 30% when we slouch. A brain receiving its full measure of oxygen is more powerful and has a better ability to concentrate. Your muscles and organs will also benefit from added oxygen, giving you more energy.
Poor posture also makes you tire more easily. Our skeletal system was designed to perform optimally when we are in the correct posture. The spine takes the majority of the weight-bearing stress both when we are moving and sitting. However, bad posture moves the weight to areas of the skeleton that were not designed to take a great amount of force. This makes our muscles, tendons and ligaments work harder to keep us upright and puts excessive stress on less sturdy parts of our bones and joints. Over time, bad posture causes changes to the spine that can become permanent, constricting nerves and blood vessels and leading to chronic pain.
Studies have shown that people experiencing depression felt markedly better when their posture improved, and it also increases self-confidence. A study by researchers at Ohio State University instructed subjects to sit up straight or to slouch. Of those who sat up straight, “Their confident, upright posture gave them more confidence in their own thoughts, whether they were positive or negative,” according to co-author of the study, Richard Perry, a professor of psychology at the university.
If you have proper posture you should be able to draw a straight line down from the earlobe through the shoulder, hip, knee and mid-ankle. Your chin should be parallel with the floor. Most people’s heads jut forward due to crouching over laptops and hand-held devices like mobile phones and tablets. When the head juts only an inch forward from the spine it essentially doubles the amount of head weight the musculoskeletal system must absorb.
To help maintain your posture throughout the day, choose an office chair that is ergonomically designed, with extra support for the lower back. You should also get up and move around regularly throughout the day. Furthermore, it’s important to strengthen your core muscles, which help to promote good posture. Yoga and Pilates are good forms of exercise for overall stretching and strengthening and will enable you to maintain good posture.