I start most mornings the same way... with a cup of coffee, my computer screen, and the sunrise.
For lots of folk, this is typical. And if you're like me, after a few hours at the computer, you notice that you're stiff, sore, and slouching. My neck starts to ache... My upper back follows... And often, it's hard to shake off the ache that this – otherwise liberating – scenario creates.
I've long felt that posture patterns were difficult to correct because they're built from lifelong habits... It turns out, there's a lot you can do, no matter your age, to remedy the effects of poor posture.
My mom always told me to stand up straight when she'd catch me slouching as a kid. It drove me crazy, but as it turns out, there's much more to good posture than just looking proper...
Poor posture has huge consequences on both your body and mind. Aches and pains are easily attributed to bad posture habits. Over time, bad posture can lead to joint pain, osteoarthritis, headaches, and surprisingly... even glaucoma. In 2016, a group of neurologists found poor posture to contribute to changes in the study participants' intraocular and intracranial pressure. So, sitting and standing in a misaligned manner can cause extra pressure to build up in both your head and eyes and can create some serious problems on top of real discomfort.
Poor posture also contributes to heart burn, incontinence, and constipation. The way you stand and sit impacts the space your organs occupy, which means your organs are unable to maintain their proper functions. Your body is tightly packed with many parts that need space to function and move properly. Putting extra pressure on your abdomen (heartburn) and bladder (incontinence) and closing off part of your anus (constipation) by slouching has avoidable consequences.
Scientists have also discovered that there is a link between correct posture and both emotional control and cognitive performance. A 2017 study found that shifting to an upright shoulder angle from a slumped forward position is associated with lower anxiety and better mood in people with mild to moderate depression. Another study found that an open (upright) stance – indicating a positive emotional state – allows for more creativity when it comes to problem solving. A closed (slumped) stance indicates a negative emotional state.
In order to correct your poor posture patterns, you need to start with awareness. Where are your visible trouble areas? There are many places on the body that could potentially be misaligned... head, neck, jaw, shoulders, back, hips, legs, and feet. Almost all of your joints could be offset. You might ask a friend to help you see your issues objectively, or perhaps even consider finding a good chiropractor, or doctor of osteopathy to give you a body analysis.
Our spinal alignment can give us clues toward the correctness of our posture. From the side, the spine should resemble an "S" curve. This allows for your body's proper nerve function, structure support with the help of adequate musculature, and flow of cerebral spinal fluid. Any interruption to just one of these systems leads to disfunction and disease. You can see the correct posture below along with a few common types of posture problems...
As you can see above, the spine curvature in each of these representations does not match the "S" curve of the "correct posture" example.
Once you have identified your trouble areas, you can plan for treatment. Some very effective treatment methods include stretching, strength building, being fitted for corrective measures (like heel lifts), investing in ergonomic furniture, establishing a better sleep position, and certain mindfulness techniques. Depending on your posture's condition, any or all of these solutions may be appropriate for you.
I often stretch my neck from side to side and move my shoulder blades closer together to shake the kinks out of my upper back. I am also a big fan of stretching and doing yoga. In fact, some of my favorite yoga moves you might already be familiar with. These are great for improving your posture.
Yoga builds your strength and stretches your body at the same time. I love child's pose and downward facing dog. The cat-cow combination is a great starting point before any sort of exercise because you learn how to focus on breathing. It is easy, simple, and effective... Do it repeatedly for a few minutes before or after any sort of exercise. I find that the knee press is a great stretch after a walk or at the end of a long day. The half cobra pose is another one of my favorites. Both of these shore up and stretch the muscles used in the lower back.
The cat and the cow yoga exercises are great moves for your spine's mobility. They also wake up and activate your lower back muscles. The half cobra pose is a great move for correcting slouched shoulders.
You can also improve your posture while you sleep. Sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees is the best position for supporting your spine. If you can't sleep on your back, placing a pillow between your knees while on your side is also supportive for proper alignment.
Also, the pillow that you choose for your head and neck should support the natural curve of your neck without pushing your head too high. Try to choose a pillow that keeps your neck in line with your chest and lower back.
Every day, we get a little older. Every day the aches and pains try creeping into our lives. Do what I do and use posture and positioning to improve your days and nights. Movement, stretching, and sleeping positions all play a role in your quality of life. First, try and be aware of what posture your body is in. Then, try some of these moves out. Many of your daily discomforts can be remedied simply by standing up straighter.
What We're Reading...
- 10 exercises to improve posture.
- Something different: In the early Americas, female hunters likely pursued big game.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
November 24, 2020