In recent years my husband has been challenging me to stand up straight more often than I care to remember. It became quite a frustration for him and me…
So in recent months I’ve been really trying hard to improve my posture, to sit up straight at my desk, to stand with my shoulders back, to suck in my stomach muscles. It’s SUCH hard work. I had no idea that standing was so straining!
Most people do not realize how important good posture is, and often neglect how they carry themselves.
Unfortunately people with bad posture are often perceived as having low self-esteem and low confidence. Another unfortunate side effect of bad posture is how harmful it is to your overall health in the long term such as back and neck pain.
Unfortunately, there are many factors encountered in life that can get in the way of the good posture. As part of my own journey to better posture I have done some research about the common causes of poor posture so that I can make some changes… and help you to improve your own posture too.
Causes of Bad Posture
Below are a few of the most common causes of poor posture.
When you experience pain in your back or neck muscles or any other part of the body, you tend to overcome the pain by holding your body in a different position. When this posture is continued for a long time, it can become a daily habit. After an injury, nearby muscles begin to guard the vulnerable area. Muscles adjacent to an injury work in a diminished way to keep the affected part stable and free from re-injury. This is a necessary function, but it causes those muscles to weaken. The imbalance between muscles that guard an injury and normal, working muscles can cause changes in body posture.
Just as in the case of an injury, if the body has areas that are extra weak and/or strong, it will not be held upright against gravity in the most effective manner. This will cause poor posture and pain.
Your spine and back need adequate nutrients to grow strong and straight. Low nutrition and lack of vitamins and calcium can affect the bones and muscles by not providing adequate strength and flexibility to hold itself in a correct posture.
Sometimes no matter how hard you try to hold your posture in a correct way, the reason can be just genes that are preventing you from improving your posture. However, this can be rectified with professional help such as physiotherapy.
Carrying extra weight can also be the reason for your poor posture. Many women with large breasts tend to have bad posture because the extra weight around their chest pulls them forward. People with extra weight around their stomach can have a problem with their posture as their lower back is pulled forward due to the stomach weight.
The way you walk or hold things can be the reason for your bad posture. The body in movement alters its patterns to accommodate weaknesses, tension or changes in bone or muscle landscape. The musculoskeletal system will create a detour to complete its intended movement. It negotiates its intended route by using other less efficient patterns of muscle contraction. In this way the body still gets to its goal, but with a comprised alignment. If you always walk with your head down or slump your shoulders your posture can be pulled out of alignment. Carrying weight on only one side of the body can contribute to imbalanced or poor posture which is why it’s not a good idea to have a heavy bag – and is better to use a pram for babies and toddlers, rather than a hip! Another big cause of bad posture is our habit of bending over our phones almost 24/7. Try to hold your phone out in front of you when reading online or scrolling through social media.
Stress leads to a decrease in full breathing, which in turn affects body posture as the two are linked.
Working at a desk job is possibly the biggest reason for hunched backs. People who have desk jobs often push their neck and head forward and hunch their shoulders resulting in poor posture.
Shoes affect posture. Women, who walk on pencil heels, are more prone to posture problems. eg. if one wears down the outside of the shoes faster than the inside. Besides high heels shoes, wearing boots, tight fitting clothes, low waist jeans and wide belts can cause bad posture! When you wear something uncomfortable like wide belts or high heeled shoes, this changes your centre of gravity, which ultimately causes your posture to suffer.
Good posture is a form of fitness in which the muscles of the body support the skeleton in an alignment that is stable and efficient during movement.
How to Improve Posture
Here are some tips for achieving the correct posture in all positions you find yourself in:
Find your center. Proper standing posture is about alignment and balance. It also lends an air of confidence.
Place your feet about shoulder width apart, the same stance you would use for working out or many other physical activities.
Stand up straight. This is, of course, the key to good standing posture, and bears repeating.
Keep your weight on the balls of your feet. When you rest on your heels, your natural tendency will be to slouch. Instead, stand up, and make an effort to stand on the balls of your feet. Notice how the rest of your body follows. Now rock back so that your weight is on your heels. Notice the way your entire body shifts into a “slouchy” posture with this single motion.
Keep your shoulders squared. It may feel unnatural at first if you have not developed good posture habits.
Pull your head back and up. Keep your head square on top of the neck and spine as you do this. Not only will this improve your posture, you will look taller and leaner, too.
Teach your body what it feels like. Stand with your back against a door or wall, with the back of your head, your shoulders, and your butt just touching it. If it feels awkward and uncomfortable, don’t worry — as you develop good posture habits and train your body, it will feel more uncomfortable to not stand this way.
Start with good standing posture. Walking with good posture is simply an extension of standing with good posture.
Keep your head up, shoulders back, chest out, and eyes looking straight ahead.
Avoid pushing your head forward.
Sit up straight! How often did your mother tell you that? Mom was right! It’s important to follow these basic guidelines, both for your posture and for your health, especially if you find yourself sitting at a desk all day.
Use an ergonomic chair. You need proper support and a chair that has been designed for your height and weight. If this is not an option, try using a small pillow for lumbar support.
Align your back with the back of the office chair. This will help you avoid slouching or leaning forward, which you may find yourself doing after sitting too long at your desk.
Keep your shoulders straight and squared, your head is upright, and your neck, back, and heels are all aligned.
Keep both feet on the ground or footrest (if your legs don’t reach all the way to the ground).
Adjust your chair and your position so that your arms are flexed, not straight out. Aim for roughly a 75- to 90-degree angle at the elbows. If they are too straight, you’re too far back, and if they are more than 90 degrees, you’re either sitting too close, or you’re slouching.
Take standing breaks. Even if you’re using perfect posture while sitting in the best chair in the world, you need to stand up and stretch, walk around, do a little exercise, or just stand there for a few minutes. Your body was not designed to sit all day
Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical activity.
Start with good sitting posture. Not only is good posture recommended for your body, it’s also important for safety concerns. Your car’s seating and protective systems were designed for people sitting in the seat properly, and can actually have an impact on safety in the event of a collision.
Keep your back against the seat and head rest.
Adjust your seat to maintain a proper distance from the pedals and steering wheel. If you’re leaning forward, pointing your toes, or reaching for the wheel, you’re too far away. If you are bunched up with your chin on top of the steering wheel, you’re too close.
Adjust the head rest. The head rest should be adjusted so that the middle of your head rests against it. Tilt the head rest as needed, to maintain a distance of no more than 10cm between the back of your head and the head rest.
Helpful Ways to Improve Posture
Always imagine that a string coming from the top of your head is pulling you gently up towards the ceiling. Visualization techniques like this one can guide your sense of proper position and height effectively.
Strap your back
Have someone tape a giant X on your back from one shoulder to the opposite hip. Then put a straight line of tape across your shoulders closing the top of the X. Wear this during the day, to help retrain your back. This works really well if you hold shoulders back before taping, use wide non stretch tape and ideally change tape each day.
Avoid the slouch
Be sure to try to walk as if you had a book balancing on your head.
If you need help remembering to keep your posture, think of a unique object or colour. Every time you think of that object, check your posture.
Focus on your calves
Let your posture and balance rely more on your calves. Try to feel an at ease attitude, and put a bounce in your step. You’ll find that it will free up the rest of your upper body to relax and assume a more upright posture that takes pressure from your back, shoulders and neck, and works on your ab muscles. This is awesome, since strong calves and abs rock!
Exercise while you wait
Be a penguin. While you wait for a web page to load or the bread to toast, place your elbows at your side, and touch your shoulders with your hands. Keeping your hands on your shoulders and your ears aligned, raise both elbows (count one, two) and lower them back down (count one, two). Do as many reps as your wait allows. You’ll be surprised how much exercise fits into 30 seconds.
This can greatly help if you find that you have a sore back or neck. It’s also good to do during the day, if your job requires you to sit for long periods. Tilt or stretch your head in all four directions over your shoulders (forward, back, left, right), and gently massage your neck. Avoid rolling in a circle, as it may cause further strain. On your hands and knees, curl your back upwards, like a cat, and then do the opposite. Think about being able to place a bowl in the hollow of your back. Repeat the exercises a few times each day. Doing them in the morning helps your body stretch out the muscle lethargy of sleep. Done periodically throughout the day, it will help to raise your energy level without a heavy workout.
Yoga is excellent for posture, and for your health in general. It can also improve your balance. Yoga works your core muscles, making them stronger and helping you to keep a proper body alignment. Yoga will also help by teaching you on how to hold an erect posture while sitting, standing, and walking. Look for classes in your area, or scout YouTube for instructional videos.
While you will not be able to consciously maintain a particular posture while sleeping, how you sleep can have an effect on your waking posture. Using a firmer mattress will help by maintaining proper back support. Sleeping on your back will help keep your shoulders straight, and it is usually more comfortable for the back than sleeping on the stomach. If you prefer sleeping on your side, try slipping a small, flat pillow between your knees to help keep your spine aligned and straight. Use a pillow to provide proper support and alignment for the head and shoulders. Don’t overdo the pillows — too many will put your head into an unnatural position which will hurt your posture.
Have you ever tried to improve your posture and realised how much hard work it is?? Share your tips in the comments below.