Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Did your mother ever tell you to sit up straight at the dinner table? Most all mothers did and most all mothers still do (dads too!). But have you ever really given thought to the importance of having good posture? In reality, posture is one of those things you may not think about until you start having problems. Indeed, it is often too late when many realize that their posture has contributed to their health issues. Posture is far more than just looking confident. Sitting or standing in the right position makes sure our bodies function properly. Did you realize for instance that 25% of people who herniate a disc do so due to their posture?
One of the most notable reasons you should strive to have good posture is that your spinal column, which houses your central nervous system, also allows the smaller peripheral nerves to stem from small openings between the vertebrae called foramens. These foramens create a sort of tunnel which allow for the nerves to come out from the spinal column. This tunnel (or foramen) is created by two vertebrae and a disc. If the disc narrows or the vertebrae becomes misaligned, then that nerve can become pinched (called impinged) and then you are likely to experience tingling or numbness down the arm of leg from which that nerve comes. If you hunch over due to poor posture, you simply speed up the decline in disc health and its consequent problems.
This is not an isolated incidence either. We start with poor posture, get back or neck pain so instead of fixing the problem we tend to adopt a worse posture as we attempt to manipulate the body into resolving the pain. This works for a short period, but then the greater slump in posture causes more problems and more pain. It’s a vicious cycle that only exercise and coaching can get us out of. Sometimes, if there’s too much pain, chiropractic will also be needed.
Strength loss is a big part of the posture picture. As we age we get weaker and that causes the muscles to have difficulty in keeping good posture. So, instead of strengthening ourselves we allow our body to maintain whatever position we can by locking out the joints and sitting our frame on top of those locked out joints. Only that leads to increased weakness, more wear and tear and eventually arthritis too! There’s that vicious circle again.
Poor posture causes many other problems that you may not have considered. Depression may be one of them! In a recent study from San Francisco State University, students were told to either walk down a hall in a slouched position or to skip. The slouchers reported increased feelings of depression and lower energy than skippers. Of course if you skipped down a hallway it would be hard to be sad. I imagine myself skipping down the hall then bursting into uncontrolled laughter over skipping, right before I looked around to see if anyone saw me (and FB’d it, yeah I know you would). The point is that posture does reflect how you feel and how old you look. Ever notice that older people with good posture look younger?
When you sit (for long periods of time) with poor posture your intestines can literally fold over each other, which can cause poor digestion, constipation, even cancer. A recent Australian study found that after the age of 25, every single hour of television—i.e., slouching on the couch—reduced the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. Plus, when English researchers cross-referenced sitting time with health outcomes in a different study, they found that those people who sat the most more than doubled their risk of developing diabetes and had a 147 % increase in their risk for cardiovascular disease, even if they exercised.
A study from Harvard showed that when people who adopted powerful postures (open shoulders and straighter backs) had a 20% increase in testosterone levels and a 25% decrease in cortisol levels—but people who slouched had a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol. That translates into low self-confidence and high stress. And sitting slouched over can compound the problem. More cortisol also translates to more belly fat too!
Slouching over also reduces lung capacity and generally causes people to breathe shallower. Shallow chest breathing crowds the lungs, which then forces us to breathe faster to ensure adequate oxygen flow, and that taxes the heart, which is forced to speed up to provide enough blood for oxygen transport. The result is a vicious cycle, where stress prompts shallow breathing, which in turn creates more stress and more rapid shallow breathing.
Slumping can also increase vertebral misalignment. Depending on the area of the misalignment, you could also experience problems with your reproductive system, and pretty much every other system in your body. On top of that, you’ll also likely experience pain in your back, neck, or shoulder areas if you don’t regularly practice good posture techniques.
So, a person’s posture not only says a lot about how they feel at that moment, but it can even affect their confidence levels according to one Ohio State study. For instance, someone that walks or stands with his or her back straight and head held high tends to have greater confidence and higher levels of happiness, whereas someone who walks with his or her head down and shoulders hunched often reports low self-confidence or depression. Incidentally, it also makes you look older, tired and depressed too.
The sad thing is, poor posture appears to start early in childhood, regardless of what our parents tell us. In fact, a 2007 study found that almost 40 percent of school-aged children had poor posture. Although this particular piece of research was conducted in the Czech Republic, chances are good that its findings apply to other areas of the world as well, which makes this issue extra concerning. Chances are also pretty good that it’s not as much a posture thing as it is a lack of strength thing.
Of course those tiny electronic devices that continue to drive the parents insane with their use may also be causing a problem too. Something called a text neck is leading many young adults into their chiropractor to fix their pain. Fact is your head moving forward just 15 degrees to use your smartphone or tablet places 27 pounds of pressure on your spine. Bend it 60 degrees and the pressure increases to 60 pounds. Thus, limiting your use of these electronic devices can often help you in regards to posture and pain. At a minimum, at least hold them up closer to eye level so that you don’t strain your neck area.
Strength training is essential to reestablishing good posture, but beware. If you lift with poor posture you get a stronger poor posture! At Revibe we are always looking to improve posture and position, even though many moves require full body motion. If you think your posture is bad, simply take a look at yourself in the mirror. Do your shoulders slump forwards? Is one side of your hip higher than the other?
Here’s a quick test to check your posture. Stand with the back of your head against a wall, place your heels about 6 inches from the wall. Your butt and shoulder blades should touch the wall. There should be less than 2 inches between your neck or small of the back and the wall. A larger gap indicates posture that requires improving and a curving spine.
Here’s a few tips to consider to improve your posture. When sitting, you should keep your head straight and not tilted up or down. Be especially wary of your work station and where your computer monitor is located. Keep your shoulders back and try to relax. Sit with your knees slightly lower than your hips. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Don’t try to keep your back ramrod straight, and don’t work without support for your arms. Try not to tuck your feet under the chair or cross your legs above the knees. When standing, keep your shoulders back and aligned. Use your stomach muscles to keep your body straight.
In fact, try contracting your abdominal muscles throughout the day to take the stress off of your spine. You should slightly bend your knees to ease pressure on the hips, and use quality shoes that offer good support (not running shoes unless you are running). When walking, keep your chin parallel to the ground and hit the ground with your heel first, then roll onto the toe. Keep your stomach and buttocks in line with the rest of the body. Don’t look down at your feet or arch your back. When running, keep your head up and looking forward. Keep your arms loose and elbows at a 90 degree angle. Lean forward slightly, and hit the ground with the midpoint of your foot and roll it forward to the toe. For running wear a good pair of running shoes. Don’t hunch your shoulders, bend at the waist, or lift your knees too high.
Posture definitely matters to your physical and emotional health, and fixing it is possible with just a few lifestyle changes. Those changes should include strength training with a trainer or a kinesiologist with a keen eye for posture. Don’t let your posture contribute to your health problems or back pain. Be proactive. At Revibe we offer a neural scan to identify posture issues. We also offer some pretty nifty programs to correct the issues too. Don’t let the cycle you’re on be one that causes bad health.