"Stand up straight." That's timeless advice we've likely all heard at one time or another, and it's worth heeding. In fact, researchers have linked bad posture with some uncomfortable health conditions and high risk of injury, especially during exercise.
Posture is the positioning of the body when a person is sitting, standing, lying down, or performing different tasks. But what is good posture really? Good posture is also known as neutral spine. When we have good posture, the muscles surrounding the spine are balanced and supporting the body equally. Poor posture, on the other hand, can cause an array of health problems. Some of those include:
Now that we know the dangers that come with poor posture, here are 9 key benefits along with tips to achieving good posture:
1. Reduced lower back pain
Sitting or standing in a slouched position for prolonged periods of time stresses your lower back. More specifically, it puts pressure on the posterior structures of the spine, including the intervertebral discs, facet points, ligaments, and muscles.
Tip: Do bridges to strengthen your lower backBridges strengthen and engage your gluteal and abdominal muscles, so your body relies on them instead of stressing your lower back. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Tighten your core without changing your back position. Lift your hips and lower torso off of the ground by contracting your gluteus maximus muscles, then slowly lower your hips back down.
2. Fewer headaches
Poor posture can contribute to tension headaches, due to increased muscle tension in the back of the neck. Often if we correct our posture, we can reduce muscle tension and improve our headaches.
Tip: Stretch your neck muscles with a head retraction exerciseThis exercise strengthens the neck muscles that are often weak and stretched out. Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Pull your chin back toward the floor like you’re trying to make a double chin. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds and repeat 10 times.
3. Increased energy levels
When your bones and joints are in correct alignment, it allows the muscles to be used as they’re intended, so you’ll have less fatigue and more energy. In other words, the muscles don't have to work so hard to do what they’re supposed to do.
Tip: Twist your torso to activate your side abs Strengthen your obliques so the right muscles are activated when you’re sitting or standing. Start by sitting on the floor with your knees bent. Lift your feet off of the floor about 6 inches. Tighten your core as you rotate your upper body and elbows from side to side.
4. Less tension in your shoulders and neck
A forward head posture puts strain on the upper back, shoulder, and neck areas. With proper alignment, the joints and ligaments are less stressed and less subject to chronic overuse.
Tip: Look in the mirror and perform this neck stretch Stretch out your neck to relieve pressure and correct tension. Stand with a straight spine and neck. Slightly tuck your chin backward. You should feel a slight tensioning of your clavicle muscles and a lengthening of the posterior part of your neck. Hold for 3 seconds and complete 15 repetitions.
5. Decreased risk of abnormal wearing of the joint surfaces
Crooked sitting and standing, such as resting on one leg or side of your body, leads to hip strain. Your joints wear down naturally over time. If your posture is even, not many problems arise. But if you’re uneven, more pain and issues tend to occur.
Tip: Strengthen your core and lower back with this hip flexor stretchThis exercise strengthens your core and lower back at the same time while stretching your hip flexors. Start in a lunge position with one knee on the floor and your leg extended backward. The other leg should be at a 90-degree angle in front of you with your foot planted on the floor. Engage your core by pulling in slightly.
6. Improved circulation and digestion
If you’re compressing vital organs, your circulation is poor, and those organs aren’t going to work as well. Healthy blood flow requires proper alignment and avoiding positions which cramp circulation, like crossing your legs.
Tip: Roll out your spine with a thoracic foam roll
Lie on your back on the ground and place a firm foam roller in a horizontal position underneath you at the bottom of your rib cage. Support your neck with your arms. Slowly extend your spine over the roller. Hold for 5 seconds and take a deep breath. Slowly move up 1 to 2 inches at a time. Perform this exercise daily.
7. Reduced TMJ (temporomandibular joint) pain
When we have a forward head position, our mandibular joint and jaw muscles experience stress and tension. This can contribute to pain with eating, talking, yawning, as well as clicking with opening, and headaches.
Tip: Loosen your jaw
With your head and neck in a neutral position and your eyes looking forward, turn your head slowly from one side to the other to stretch your neck muscles.
8. Better form during your workouts
Our posture doesn’t just affect us when we’re sitting and standing, but when we’re exercising, too. For example, having an engaged core and neutral spine during a squat will help prevent injury.
Tip: Try the tree pose
Stand upright with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Bring your hands to meet in the middle of your chest with palms and fingers touching. Pull your shoulder blades back with your ears resting above your shoulders. Lift one leg up to your thigh or shin (not your knee), and press the sole of your foot into your leg for stability. Both legs should be engaged, and your core should be tucked slightly as you maintain a neutral spine.
9. Appear taller
While it’s icing on the cake, good posture can make us more attractive. “People look taller and slimmer when they have good posture,” admits Griffith. Sometimes it can even make our abdominals appear more defined.
Tip: Flex with the forearm plank
Lie on the floor with your frontside down. Keep your forearms parallel and your feet hip-width apart. Tighten your core and lift your torso off of the ground. Make sure you’re looking down between your elbows, your shoulder blades are pulled back, and your core muscles are tight. Hold your plank for up to 30 seconds, but stop sooner if your form starts to decline. Complete 3 sets.
Up for a challenge?
Aim to get all the benefits of good posture by trying the above tips consistently for 30 days! Being mindful of body positioning, stretching regularly, and employing the tips listed above can tremendously improve posture and your overall health. For even more help, call to make an appointment at The Smith clinic today!