When it comes to posture, it seems like your mum did know best – her shouts of “sit up straight!” and “stop slouching!” were great advice.
At the beginning of the year, lots of us look to refocus our health and set ourselves goals for the upcoming year. But most people forget one of the most important areas to concentrate on; bad posture can counteract hours spent in the gym and derail your fitness goals. Improving posture will help to activate more muscles and boost their efficiency, meaning that by sitting up straight you burn more calories.
Good posture can help your muscles work more efficiently and improve your overall health and fitness
Slouching or stooping causes muscles to fatigue and ligaments to strain in order to support your spine, which can lead to back pain, headaches, muscle tension and injuries. Correcting your posture may feel awkward and unnatural to begin with, but if you work at it, your muscles and joints will strengthen. Over time, maintaining good posture will feel much more comfortable.
Postural awareness is the one guaranteed method to improve it long-term. Sadly, the nature of habit means that maintaining good posture requires a lasting commitment. However, with a few tips and tricks, you can be sitting taller and walking straighter in no time.
Benefits of good posture:
If you spend a large part of your day hunched over your computer, iPad or phone (let’s be honest, who isn’t guilty?!) you may well have a sore or tight neck by the end of the day. Sitting with better posture will improve muscle efficiency, therefore reducing strain and tension through neck and upper back muscles. Even more crucially, sitting up straight will reduce pressure going through discs and joints in your neck, therefore reducing the wear and tear that occurs naturally over time.
Good alignment can not only improve your posture, but can make you look taller, slimmer and more confident. Look at a photo of yourself where you’re slouching and compare it to one where you’re posing – unless you’re a natural ballerina, your posture and overall appearance will be much better with a few tweaks.
Good posture will make you look taller, slimmer and more confident
So lose the rounded shoulders and Dowager’s hump for an instanta-improvement. If you’ve put better posture on your 2017 resolution list, follow this advice for a healthier spine, better muscle flexibility and improved confidence this year.
Top tips for posture:
1) Exercise to improve sitting posture: Imagine you have a helium balloon attached to the crown of your head. Allow your neck to lengthen, gently tuck your chin in and allow your shoulders to relax. This will eliminate the tendency to round your shoulders and gives the impression of a more elongated neck.
2) Whilst sitting, lift your sternum forwards and upward, lengthening your collarbones whilst keeping your shoulder blades relaxed down. This automatically straightens the upper back, making you look taller and relieving any pressure that might be accumulating between your shoulder blades and trapezius muscles.
Core strengthening exercises are a great way to support your spine
3) Improve your core strength. It sounds simple, but your core is your ‘powerhouse’, stabilising your pelvis, hips and spine. The stronger your deep core muscles are, the more effectively the rest of your muscles will work (which is why there’s such a strong focus on alignment in Pilates and yoga).
4) Posture Prompts
Set yourself a reminder as a prompt to sit up straight.
Despite the best intentions, most of us forget about posture about thirty seconds after correcting it, so it’s essential to be reminded regularly. Whether it’s while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or setting a reminder on your phone, find something to cue you to stop slouching, roll your shoulders back and take some deep breaths. Not only will you feel calmer, posture-prompts will support your neck and spine and temporarily relieve tense muscles.
Wearing high heels, extra belly weight and tight hamstrings can make the natural curve of your spine appear more pronounced.
5) Everyone has a natural curve in their low back, known as a lordosis, however in some people this can be more pronounced. Lumbar lordosis can be exaggerated by excessive weight, pregnancy and wearing high heels. Doing regular glute strengthening exercises such as squats, clamshells and bridges can help correct standing posture and improve the appearance of a bum that sticks out (or in my family, affectionately named the ‘Donald Duck’ posture).
6) Sit well. If your bum is too near the edge of the chair, you may find yourself leaning forward or slouching. Ensure that your bum is as far back in the chair as possible, you have some lumbar support and that your feet are balancing your body weight on the floor.
Try and sit with feet on the floor, bum back and your lumbar spine supported
7) Make ergonomic changes. Make sure you have a good work-station setup with your shoulders relaxed, back and feet supported and computer screen at eye-level to avoid slouching all day. And most importantly, try and take regular breaks and keep active to prevent bad postural habits from building up.
Remember, awareness of good posture is the first step to breaking poor postural habits. Bear these things in mind and make 2017 the year where you sit up and take control of your posture.
Naomi Burns, Physiotherapist