Your posture plays a key role in how you look and even helps in shaping your personality.
Maintaining good posture while sitting, standing, walking or sleeping helps keep your body in proper alignment.
It also improves your balance, reduces you risk of falls, and prevents sore muscles as well as neck and back pain.
On the other hand, poor posture can affect your physical and emotional well-being, and can disrupt your sleep. It can even lead to breathing problems, joint pain, difficulty walking and a hunched back, as well as increasing your risk of falls with age.
There is a simple mirror test that can help you check your posture. Stand in front of a full-length mirror and check if:
- your head is erect
- your shoulders are level
- the spaces between your arms and sides seem equal
- your hips are level
- your kneecaps face straight ahead
- your feet are symmetrical from side to side and your ankles are straight
You are not born with poor posture. Your lifestyle and the manner in which you walk around, sit on your chair or sleep at night leads to poor posture. Fortunately, it takes minimal effort to improve your posture.
Here are the top 10 ways to improve your posture.
1. Always Walk Tall
The body’s natural design makes walking effortless, but incorrect standing and walking can lead to poor posture. It can also cause problems like fatigue, joint stiffness and tight, achy muscles.
When walking, try to ‘walk tall’. This means you should keep your head upright with your eyes looking straight ahead, your shoulders should be straight and squared, and your weight should be balanced evenly on both feet.
By imagining a string attached to the top of your head pulling you upwards, you can learn the art of walking in the correct manner.
You can also improve your balance by walking on sand with a wobble board on your head. This helps correct your walking posture.
Until you have mastered your posture, remind yourself to not slouch when walking. When standing, avoid leaning on one leg or “hanging on one hip” as it may lead to muscle imbalances in the pelvic region due to pressure on one side of your lower back and hip.
To help prevent slouching, stand with your back against a wall, with the back of your head, shoulders and buttocks just touching the wall. Stand in this position for 10 to 15 minutes, a few times daily.
2. Sleep on Your Back
It is true that you cannot consciously maintain a particular posture while sleeping, but how you sleep can have an effect on your posture.
For instance, sleeping on your back can help improve your posture. When sleeping on your back, your spinal cord gets proper support from the bed and your shoulders line up perfectly with the body.
On the other hand, incorrect sleep posture can strain your back and lead to body pain. Sleeping on your side or your stomach can harm your spine and nervous system.
Use a firm mattress, which provides better support to the body while sleeping. Pillows also make a huge different. Use a pillow that is neither too soft nor too hard.
Get a pillow that provides enough support to keep your neck in a neutral position while you sleep. A flat pillow is best when you sleep on your back. Be sure to keep the pillow underneath your head and neck, rather than under your shoulders.
To reduce strain on your lower lumbar region, place 1 or 2 pillows under your knees.
3. Take Regular Breaks from Sitting
Even if you practice perfect posture while sitting, it is important to take frequent breaks. Sitting for long hours in the same position can make you feel drained and tense, and even cause pain in the neck and back.
It can also cause reduced blood flow, increased stress, reduced creativity and make you less energetic.
You need to bear in mind that your body is not designed to sit all day. So, after sitting for an hour, stand up and stretch, walk around, do a little exercise or just stand in place for at least 5 minutes.
If you are prone to forget about taking breaks when engrossed in work, set reminders on your phone or computer or put a note in a spot where you will always see it.
4. Wear Shoes with Low Heels
High heels and stilettos are fashionable and very popular among women, but they are simply not good for your posture.
Wearing high-heeled shoes for a long time takes a toll on your spine, ankles, hips, knees and feet, which in turn alters your posture and gait.
A 2009 review published in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association highlights the negative effects of high heel height on gait and posture and the kinetics and kinematics of the foot, ankle, knee, hip and spine.
Moreover, a 2013 study published in a Brazilian journal, Scielo Brasi reports that high-heeled shoes in adolescents can lead to the development of postural disorders, such as forward head posture, lumbar hyperlordosis, pelvic anteversion and knee valgus.
High heels also cause chronic foot problems as well as leg and back pain.
As a general rule of thumb, keep your heels no higher than 2 inches. Whenever possible, go without shoes. This helps build the muscles in your feet, which are essential for good posture.
5. Practice Yoga
Yoga is excellent for your posture as well as overall health. It helps improve your balance, strengthen your core muscles, lengthen your spine and increase your flexibility. All these factors are important for improving your posture.
Tadasana or Mountain Pose is one of the basic yoga poses that everyone should practice. To do this pose:
- Stand straight, with toes touching each other and heels slightly apart.
- Lift and spread your toes and the balls of your feet, and gently sway back and forth.
- Gradually reduce this swaying to a standstill, with your weight balanced evenly on your feet.
- Firm your thigh muscles, lift your knees and pull in your lower belly.
- Press your shoulder blades into your back, then widen them across and release them down your back.
- Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds, breathing deeply.
Along with Tadasana, other yoga poses that help improve posture include Vrksasana (Tree Pose), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), Balasana (Child’s Pose), Salabhasana (Locust Pose) and Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog).
Always learn yoga under the guidance of an expert when you are beginning. To reap the benefits of yoga, it is important to do it in the correct way.
6. Do Not Hunch Over While Using Your Computer or Mobile
Those who spend several hours a day working on a computer or using a mobile device or tablet unconsciously adopt poor postural habits, such as hunching their backs.
A hunched back is a sign of a tight chest and a weak upper back. Over time, a hunched back can lead to development of a rounded upper back, which can cause shoulder and upper back stiffness. This is a sign of poor posture.
If you need to spend a lot of time working in front of a computer, make sure to use an appropriate monitor, desk and chair height for you. Always keep your head in a neutral position with your monitor at eye level.
When using a mobile device, bring the screen to eye level to prevent your head from getting slouched forward or too high. For tablets, use a case that allows you to prop up the tablet on a table. This will reduce stiffness in the neck.
Also, avoid propping your phone or mobile device between your ear and shoulder, as it puts strain on the muscles of the neck, upper back and shoulders.
To prevent a hunched back, you should do upper back, neck and rear shoulder strengthening exercises. Neck posture drills are also recommended to help correct this bad posture.
7. Strengthen Your Core
Another good way to improve your posture is to focus on exercises that strengthen your core muscles, which are the abdominal and low back muscles that connect to your spine and pelvis.
Strong muscles across your lower abdomen, lower and upper back, and shoulders help to maintain correct posture without fatigue. A weak core will affect your posture, making you hunch over.
Strong core muscles even help a lot in improving your athletic performance as well as preventing urinary incontinence.
When it comes to strengthening your core muscles, neutral spine lying down is the best exercise. To do this:
- Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, hip-distance apart.
- Rest your arms at your sides with your palms facing down.
- Relax your shoulders and breathe deeply, allowing your ribcage, neck and jaw to relax with every breath.
Other good exercises include leg lifts, long leg lifts, prone hold, horse stance and plank pointer, to name a few.
8. Avoid Crossing Your Legs While Sitting
Crossing one leg over the other leads to increased pressure on one side of the body, which is not good for your posture. Plus, sitting with crossed legs can cause lower back pain.
Over time, the habit of sitting with crossed legs can cause nerve damage and long-term numbness in your legs.
You must also avoid shifting your weight around by leaning to one side or the other when sitting in a chair.
When it comes to sitting in a chair in good position, you should place your feet flat and rested on the ground. If you find it uncomfortable to keep your feet completely flat, just prop your feet on something such as foot stool.
9. Take Up Swimming
Many sports can help improve your posture, and swimming is one of them. Swimming helps strengthen the back and core and is especially good for the lower back. It is considered a great exercise for people with back or neck problems.
Swimming in the backstroke style is great to reverse the effects of time spent on the computer. It helps open up the chest muscles and strengthens the upper back muscles. It also pulls your shoulders back, which is important for good posture.
Along with the backstroke, freestyle (or front crawl), breaststroke and butterfly styles are also good.
No matter what swimming style you prefer, always do some stretching exercises first to balance out all the muscles in your upper body.
10. Buy a Lumbar Support Pillow
Many people have a tendency to slump or slouch while sitting for long periods of time. Slouching puts pressure on the lumbar region of the spine, which can affect your posture over time. It even increases tension in the back muscles, which in turn may cause pain.
During such situations, a lumbar support pillow can go a long way toward correcting your sitting posture by supporting your spine.
Such pillows are designed to sit in the curve of your lower back while you are sitting, forcing you to sit in the correct position.
Instead of lumbar back supports, you can even use a towel or a small, flat pillow while sitting in an office chair or while driving long distances.