Words Jeannie Croucher
Maintaining good posture while standing, walking, sitting and even lying down is a key component of everyday good health, and is as important as a healthy diet, adequate sleep or exercise
As many people today spend more and more time hunched over digital devices, It’s practically impossible to avoid the ‘slumping forward’ posture most people adopt. When combined with more traditional activities that position the body into forward-leaning positions, such driving, reading and ironing, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid long-term health issues that are caused by bad posture.
Sustaining good posture ensures that the body is symmetrically aligned and that the tension in muscles and ligaments is properly distributed. It keeps the body parts in their rightful positions with minimal stress. When poor posture is practised repeatedly, the body’s structure slowly changes and adapts to it, resulting in misalignment, muscle tension and pain. It can even be responsible for permanent changes to the structure of the spine.
Among the benefits of a balanced and aligned posture are:
Breath management: A well-aligned torso helps to open the airways and ensure proper breathing, which allows enhanced oxygen flow in the cardiopulmonary system. The blood will have an ample supply of oxygen to carry to the nervous system, organs and other tissues, which enables them to function more effectively.
Circulation and digestion: When it comes to the digestive system, proper posture helps to keep your internal organs, particularly those within your abdomen, in their natural position without undue compression, so the normal flow and function of the gastrointestinal apparatus can function properly. This will prevent certain digestive problems, from acid reflux to constipation, and even hernias.
Appearance: Avoiding slouching can make you look taller, slimmer and younger. Slumping and slouching curves the spine forward, creating rolls on the stomach and causing it to protrude. When you lengthen into good posture, the abs become engaged and compressed, which immediately makes you appear three to five pounds lighter, and your clothes will look a lot better.
Reduced stress on muscles and joints: When bones and joints are correctly aligned it enables muscles to coordinate in a more efficient manner. This ensures that the body uses less energy, thus reducing muscle fatigue, and allows tasks to be undertaken for longer periods with minimal exhaustion. There will also be less stress on ligaments, and the risks of injury or incurring chronic conditions such as arthritis are minimised.
Increased confidence: Amy Cuddy, from the Harvard Business School, has completed extensive research on how our nonverbal behaviours affect not only the way people perceive us but also how we perceive ourselves. In her 2012 TedTalk she recommends a simple exercise: assume a ‘power posture’ for just two minutes each day to improve your destiny. She explains how expansive, open postures reflect high power, while narrow, closed postures reflect low power. In fact, studies show that people who adopt high power poses increase their feelings of dominance, risk-taking, power and even pain tolerance, and at the same time reduce anxiety and the production of cortisol (the stress hormone).
While it is good to be conscious of posture to a certain degree, sustaining good posture should not require constant self-monitoring. To encourage good posture in a natural way, here are some tips:
- Keep your feet on the floor or a foot rest if they don’t reach the floor
- Don’t cross your legs, and keep the ankles in front of the knees
- Keep a small gap between the back of your knees and the front of the seat, and have knees at or below hip level
- Have your backrest support the entire back
- Maintain relaxed shoulders, with forearms at a parallel position to the ground
- Avoid sitting in the same position for long periods of time
- Ensure that weight is borne primarily on the balls of the feet
- If you have to stand for a long time, shift weight from toes to heels, or from one foot to the other
- Arms should hang naturally down the sides of the body
- Stand straight and tall, with shoulders pulled backwards
- Earlobes should be in line with the shoulders
- Do not push the head forward, backwards or to the side
Proper lying position:
- Comfort is important; a firm mattress is generally recommended, but some find a soft one may be more comfortable
- Always use a pillow to support the natural curve of the neck and shoulders
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach because the spine can be put out of position
For those of us who just aren’t as well aligned as we should be, these tips can help prevent pain and boost well-being, but anyone with serious posture issues or pain should consult a doctor.