Having proper posture is very important for many reasons. Beyond the cosmetic benefits of proper posture such as looking thinner and more confident in your appearance, your posture also affects how you look and feel on a daily basis. Posture influences every physiologic function of your body, it can have a positive or negative influence on your strength, function, performance and overall energy levels.
When prompted, almost anyone can “sit up straight” or “have good posture.” It is maintaining good posture throughout the day that is difficult for the far majority of the population. Maintaining resilient posture for a long period of time is called Postural Fitness. Just as you have to consistently workout to increase your level of physical fitness, it takes commitment and persistence to build your Postural Fitness.
Bad posture is a modern day health epidemic that is much worse than most people naturally assume. When you lack the ability to maintain good posture in your daily routine, then your spine is out of balance, putting unhealthy pressure upon all other structures of the body including the nervous system and breathing patterns. The spine has a powerful relationship with the brain, spinal cord, and overall organ function. This intimate connection means that poor posture and spinal health has a far more reaching affect throughout the entire body.
Proper postural habits contribute to better body function and are necessary to increase your level of Postural Fitness. By implementing these 10 Principles of Postural Fitness into your daily routine, you can experience the health benefits of better posture.
1) Maintain the “S-curve” of the Spine
Your spinal column is shaped more or less like an “S.” It is important to maintain the natural S-curve of the back, whether sitting or standing. When standing or sitting for prolonged periods of time, people with low Postural Fitness tend to have a “C” curve of their spine, meaning they round their shoulders forward and lose contraction of their core musculature. To maintain an “S” curve you must be mindful of your posture and avoid postural collapse into the “C” curve.
2) Work at the Proper Height
Working at the right height is also a way to increase Postural Fitness. Do most work at elbow height, especially repetitive activities. Also, while at work make sure that the most commonly used objects are within an arm’s reach away to avoid twisting and straining the spine and upper extremity when grabbing for your work tools.
3) Utilize Proper Lifting Techniques
Poor technique can cause both acute injury, and serious chronic effects. Implement these 7 steps to avoid over exertion and maintain good posture while lifting:
- Lift close to your body
- Feet shoulder width apart
- Bend your knees and keep your back straight
- Tighten your core musculature
- Lift with your legs
- Avoid twisting
- If you’re straining, get help
4) Maintain Proper Posture While Sleeping
It is optimal to sleep with your back in a neutral position- not arched a lot, but not flat either. It is recommended to sleep on your side or on your back; these positions take pressure off your spine. Also, avoid bending and twisting your cervical spine during the night. Select a pillow that is not too thick to allow your cervical spine to be in a relaxed position without contracting the musculature or bending the spine.
5) Proper Technology Usage
The average human head weighs 10 pounds in a neutral position, when your ears are over your shoulders. For every inch you tilt your head forward, the pressure on your spine doubles. So if you’re looking down at a smartphone in your lap, your neck is holding up what feels like 20 or 30 pounds. All that extra pressure puts a strain on your spine and can pull it out of alignment. While checking your phone or Ipad, hold the device at eye-level to reduce compression of the cervical spine.
6) Put Your Wallet in Your Front Pocket
Make sure when you are seated your wallet is not in your back pocket. Your wallet can be real pain for your back and the hips, and it can even lead to shooting pains down the legs. Sitting on a wallet for prolonged hours every day can compress the sciatic nerve. The wallet acts as a wedge that forces the pelvis, spine and body out of alignment. The healthiest option to build your Postural Fitness is to move the wallet to your front pocket.
7) Move, Exercise, Stretch
To be healthy the human body needs to be exercised and stretched. General exercise recommendations are to do at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a minimum of 3-4 times per week. Exercising helps your posture by moving the articulations of the body and strengthening the postural muscles that support your spine. It is also important to stretch the muscles. Postural stretches should be done daily to increase flexibility of the spine and the limbs and to prevent injury.
8) Take Posture Breaks at Work
Rest periods give the body time to recover from work; break time exercises and stretches strengthen the body. Workers should think of themselves as Occupational Athletes; athletes wouldn’t participate in a sport without proper rest and warm-up, so use the same preparation on the job. As muscles tire during a work task, slouching can lead to poor posture, sloppy, uncontrolled movements, and injuries. Rest breaks mean recovery for the body. During a job task, take micro-breaks lasting 20 seconds every 30 minutes.
9) Carry Your Purse Properly
You should not carry more than 10 percent of your body weight! If your load is excessive, your head and neck jut forward rather than staying over your shoulders, which can lead to headaches, neck tension, and back pain. Long-strapped shoulder bags are not ideal because they tug you to one side in a “C” shape, with the purse bumping at your hip and the strap slipping (so you hunch up your shoulder to keep it in place). Look for purses with short handles, and reduce the amount of load in your purse to save your spine and increase your Postural Fitness.
10) Yearly Posture Exam
Good postural hygiene requires maintenance evaluations. Just as you get your teeth checked to prevent tooth decay, you should have your posture evaluated annually to prevent spinal degeneration. Yearly posture photos are a visual timeline of your posture and demonstrate your level of Postural Fitness each year. If you see your posture beginning to weaken, you should take action immediately to correct your posture. Avoiding the problem will lead to health consequences that are harder to correct later in life.
Dr. Krista Burns DC, DRHA, CPEP, CPS
Doctor of Chiropractic
Doctor of Health Administration
Certified Postural Specialist
Co-Founder American Posture Institute
Posture by Design, Not by Circumstance