Stop Slouching: 7 Steps to Better Posture
Stand Up Straight! We’ve all heard it (thanks, Mom!) and we’ve all said it to someone at some point. We’re talking, of course, about posture.
When we were children and teenagers it felt annoying to be told to stand up straight, but the advice was good then and is equally important now that we are older. If you paid attention and put the advice to work for you originally chances are good you are enjoying good posture now. While there can be physical limitations, especially as we get older, good posture habits can be learned and poor posture can always be improved.
I have always thought of my posture as being pretty good—could be better, but overall it’s not bad. And, then in the past year or so I’ve become aware that I am slouching more. I occasionally catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and see my shoulders rounded and chin jutting out…not good!
Blame it on computers, my iPhone, laziness or aging, but whatever the reason, I have committed to changing it for the better.
Since I am on a roll to become more consistently aware of how I stand and hold my body, I have decided to share my thoughts and findings with you. I figure if I have any control over my alignment as my body ages, I want to start now to ensure the best results and I expect you do, too.
These words of wisdom from Tim Gunn, author of “Tim Gunn, a Guide to Quality, Taste and Style,” are right on target. He says,
“Style is not just about clothes, nor is it something bestowed upon you if you are the correct size or shape. Style is about the way you hold yourself and move through the world. It is about paying attention to the details of you, which means embracing and taking full advantage of what you have to work with. Go forth, exfoliated and moisturized; be kind to your freckles; lose the ponytail; and position that pelvis. It will do far more for you than a new outfit.”
With that said, here are 10 daily activities that can wreak havoc on your posture:
- Computers and Cell Phones: This comes as no surprise to anyone, I’m sure. Staring at a computer or cell phone all day often causes you to slump, lean forward, round your shoulders, jut out your chin and, if your seating is not ergonomic it can contribute not only to poor posture but also to back and shoulder pain.
- Driving: I have always been shocked at how many car seats are made to purposely push your head forward and round your back simply because of the design of the seat and headrest. What is that about? Maybe I need to be over 6′ tall so the headrest hits my neck and not the back of my head, but it’s just so uncomfortable. I’m sure there are some cars for which this is not true, but a year ago when I was test-driving cars, there were some that were so bad I could not buy the car.In addition, not too long ago, I was watching the Dr. Oz Show while on the treadmill at the gym and he did a segment on posture. He, too, talked about driving—specifically about how to hold your hands on the steering wheel. It seems that the new recommendation (or maybe it’s not new and I’m just learning about it) is to hold your hands at 9 and 3 instead of 10 and 2. This position allows your shoulders to relax because your arms do not have to reach up and apparently it is safer if your air bag deploys. I have tried it and I can feel the difference (even if it is a little awkward to change after 40 years of driving!)
- Sleeping: If you sleep with more than one pillow and you are a back sleeper, you might want to reconsider. Sleeping with your head too high causes your head to push forward and your neck and back to round.
- Inactivity: Sitting for long periods of time, especially in front of the computer, can wreak havoc on your posture. It is so easy to get lost in concentration that you forget to adjust your sitting position, causing body parts to sit in unnatural positions for long periods of time and this includes your posture. Plus, it does nothing to strengthen your muscles in a good way or improve circulation and flexibility.
- Cooking: I know people who don’t cook and have zero interest in ever cooking, but for those of us who do prepare at-home meals (whether we like cooking or not), be aware of how you are standing as you chop or stir something on the stove, especially if your counter top is not at the ideal height (so your arms are at 90 degree angle when you are working at it).
- Your Handbag: As handbags have gotten larger and larger over the past few years, it means we can carry more and more stuff around with us. While this might be handy when you need an extra pair of shoes, a first aid kit or a pack of gum, your back and neck can suffer as you adjust your body to maintain the extra weight on one side of your body. Definitely not posture-friendly!
- Slouching: It is easy simply to forget to stand up straight, especially as the years go by. Part of having good posture is being aware of how you are standing so you make a concerted effort to stand tall. As Dr. Oz mentions, “Slouching can put the equivalent of 100 extra pounds of stress on the lower back. For every inch your head drops forward as you’re slouching, the stress on your spine increases by 10 pounds.” http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/OnCall/dr-mehmet-oz-hidden-back-pain-relief/story?id=10331956 Ouch!
- Fatigue: Our days are so chock full of errands, work, children, social events and everything else we need to do to keep all the plates spinning, that at the end of the day (and sometimes even before that!) fatigue sets in. Have you ever felt like you have to adjust your rearview mirror in the car down slightly as the day goes along? It is like your body is being beaten down by all the running around. Fatigue can do that and the last thing you are thinking about is standing up straight!
- Poorly Fitting Bra: Just tightening the straps on your current bra will not make it fit better or give you a lift and will only make your shoulders more painful. Whether your posture is perfect or not, it can always be helped by a well-fitting bra. If you have never had a bra fitting chances are really good that you are not wearing the right size (even if you think you are). There are so many things to consider when finding the right bra for your body that I highly recommend having a professional fitting. Your clothes will fit better, you will naturally stand taller and the weight will be distributed more appropriately so you are more comfortable.
- Aging: This is what really hit home for me. Muscle can weaken as you age (especially if you are not doing enough to keep them strong) and this contributes to the rounded back you see as people get older. While poor posture can seem less of an issue when you are young, as you age, it can have very physical and psychological ramifications.
Phew! So, now what? Keep reading…
7 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Posture Immediately
- Open Your Chest: Years ago my chiropractor recommended that I periodically lay on my back across my bed with my head hanging just slightly off the end and bring my arms out to the side or over my head. It opens up the chest area and gives your neck a break from jutting forward. Try it. It’s easy and quick and is a great de-stressor. Aaaaah, very relaxing.
- Strengthen Your Core: Building up your core muscles (your abs and all muscles in your torso) are your foundational muscles and doing this helps provide the stability and balance your body needs to be in alignment. Try pilates, yoga, cardiovascular exercise and/or weight-training and watch your posture improve.
- Awareness: The truth is that it is easy to forget to stand up straight. I have started reminding myself regularly, even when I’m sitting in the car at a light or blow drying my hair. I can hear my yoga teacher’s voice in my head saying relax your shoulders and lift your chest—simple, not extreme movements and it makes such a difference in how I feel and carry myself.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is vital for strong bones and muscles. In fact, you cannot effectively absorb calcium without the necessary Vitamin D. Take it from someone who once had dangerously low Vitamin D levels – if you aren’t in the sun enough or live in the northern hemisphere where at this time of year you can’t get your Vitamin D from the sun, ask your doctor to test your Vitamin D levels so you know how much supplementation you need to bring your levels up.
- Breathe: When you are stressed out what do you do? You forget to breathe or breathe shallowly and your muscles tense and tighten. This cannot possibly be good for you on so many levels including your posture. The next time you feel stressed. Stop. Relax your shoulders. Lift your chest and breathe…Aaaaaah, isn’t that better?
- Extra Support: Several years ago, after sitting on one at my chiropractor’s office, I got one of these Fitball Wedges. It has lived on my office desk chair ever since and helps me sit taller and not slouch while I’m writing this article!
- Go Barefoot: Of course, we have to wear shoes or boots, especially at this time of year when temperatures hover around freezing. But, when you are home remove your shoes. The muscles of your feet are the foundation of your posture, balance and fluidity movement. There is an entire movement around going barefoot (especially on grass and sand) and how it helps improve the strength of your feet: http://www.runbare.com/10-reasons-to-go-barefoot. When your feet are strong you can’t help but stand taller and with improved balance.
If you want to look and feel younger and taller, the first place to look is your posture. Stand tall and see how it affects your attitude. It’s empowering, increases your self-confidence and you can breathe deeper!