Vrikshasana tree pose

Everyone aspires to having perfect posture – after all, we’ve all heard the saying that standing up straight is the quickest way to make yourself look thinner. And no one can deny that clothes tend to hang better on an upright, evenly balanced figure. However, did you know that your posture also plays a vital role in maintaining good health?

Posture essentially refers to the position your body assumes when standing, sitting or lying down. By ensuring that your posture is correctly aligned, not only will your body look better, but you’ll feel better and find that everything functions more effectively, too. Read on to learn why this is the case, the challenges that affect our posture every day, and how you can safeguard your health by improving your posture…

Why good posture is important for health

Poor posture forces your muscles to maintain an unnatural stance, which puts undue stress on joints, ligaments and the spine. This can contribute to issues such as arthritis and back pain, and means your muscles aren’t functioning efficiently during exercise, which can impact your performance and even lead to injury. By adjusting your alignment, you’ll relieve the strain on your muscles and joints, relieving any creeping aches and freeing yourself to move correctly.

Slouching can also have a negative effect on your body’s vital organs and systems. For instance, when you’re not sitting or standing upright, your lung capacity is diminished, which can affect oxygen intake and energy levels. Similarly, a slumped posture can result in slower circulation, digestion and elimination, all of which can make you feel sluggish and contribute to weight gain and other health issues.

The challenges facing our posture today

It seems that bad posture is endemic in today’s society, in part due to the large amount of time we spend sitting down, whether while working on a computer at a desk, or vegging out in front of the television. Excessive sitting has already been associated with an increased risk of multiple health issues, ranging from obesity and heart disease to diabetes and cancer.

However, sitting for long periods can also wreak havoc on the alignment of your spine and muscles, particularly if you’re craning forward to look at a screen, hunching over a keyboard, or twisting your head to cradle a phone against your shoulder. Not only can this lead to short-term pain and stiffness, but people who sit for extended periods are also at greater risk of spinal issues, herniated disks and stiffness and imbalances in the vertebrae.

What’s more, prolonged sitting can create muscle imbalances that exacerbate postural problems. For instance, the hip flexor muscles at the front of the legs can become tight and stiff, making it harder to straighten out your body and restricting your stride, while the gluteal muscles – largely unused while sitting – grow flabby and soft. Meanwhile, when you slouch your ab muscles are disengaged, leading to a loss of the core strength needed to support your spine and hold yourself erect.

Other factors which can affect your posture and are common in today’s society are being overweight, wearing high heeled shoes, and sleeping on unsupportive mattresses and pillows, all of which can throw off your alignment and put strain on muscles and joints. Your posture can also suffer if your workspace has not been designed with ergonomics in mind – for example, your desktop should be at elbow height, while your chair should be positioned so that your bent knees are slightly higher than your hips and your lower back is supported.

The elements of good posture

You can train your body and mind to hold yourself correctly, although it will initially take some effort and awareness on your part.

When standing, check your position in a mirror (or have a friend take a photo). Ideally, when viewed from the side you should see a straight line from your ears through your shoulders, hips and ankles. Your shoulders should be rolled gently down and back, so that your shoulder blades extend down the back, and your spine should extend softly upward, with the abs slightly engaged to support the back. Your pelvis should be in a comfortable neutral position, so that your hips don’t thrust forward (rounding the back) or back (causing a swayback).

To sit correctly, keep your feet planted firmly on the floor, with shoulders down and relaxed and spine gently extended. Don’t slump or lean forward, and keep your head balanced over your shoulders – don’t strain your neck forward. Make sure your chair and desk are adjusted correctly so that you can sit with elbows bent at 90 degrees and your knees a bit higher than your hips.

Other ways to help improve your posture

Aside from adjusting your workspace and teaching yourself to sit and stand correctly, you can also help prevent postural issues by getting up and moving frequently throughout the day – try not to sit for an extended period. There are a number of ways you can stay active at work, even if you’re normally deskbound.

There are also a number of exercises that will help you stretch and tone the muscles needed for good posture – many moves from yoga and Pilates in particular are effective for building the required core strength. For instance, try cat and cow pose in yoga – this gentle stretch will limber up your spine, while exercises such as the plank or the Pilates roll-up work the core. For tight shoulders and upper back, try a forward fold with hands clasped behind you, or to relieve tension in the hips, do a simple hip flexor stretch after sitting.

Of course, an overall healthy lifestyle – with a balanced diet, regular exercise, and perhaps even the occasional massage to help relieve tense muscles and relax – will help keep you limber and within a healthy weight range, both of which help your body maintain a good alignment.

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