The Importance of Good Posture
You sit down at your desk to start that paper that you’ve been procrastinating for the entirety of Fall Break: for those first 15 minutes of staring blankly at the empty Microsoft Word page on your computer, you’re sitting up straight, your back against the back of the chair, and your feet are on the floor. By the time you come up with a thesis, you’re sitting on one foot you’ve tucked under the other leg and the distance between your face and the computer screen has been cut in half. By the end of the introduction, it looks like the Hunchback of Notre Dame is sitting at your computer, and by the end of the first page, you’re just typing a million ”g’s” because your face is laying on the keyboard. Good posture isn’t found on the priority list of most college students, but it can have a drastic impact on your long-term health.
Maintaining good posture means sitting in a way that allows your bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons to all be in proper alignment so that no particular area or part of your body has an unnecessary amount of stress placed on it. Proper posture prevents joint and muscle pain that can become almost permanent over time as the stress causes damage to your body. Improper posture can increase your risk of arthritis and even limit proper organ and nervous system function if you’re constantly hunched over so much that your torso is significantly shorter than it should be.
Holding poor posture on a regular basis can be a result of both weak muscles and overly tight muscles. Stress and long hours of sitting in the same place, working on a computer, for example, can cause the neck, shoulder, and back muscles to tighten up and encourage bad posture as we hunch and lean and sag to try to compensate for the tension we’re feeling. If your abdominal muscles are weak, your posture will also suffer significantly because the core muscles are essential for supporting the spine and even aligning the hips as you walk and sit, which is just another reason to be sure you’re making time to incorporate some core strengthening exercises into your routine.
It seems like we often recognize bad posture when we see it or feel it, but could you demonstrate perfect posture if you were asked? Proper posture is different if you’re sitting, standing, lying down, or exercising. Here are some tips for improving your posture no matter what you’re up to:
If you’re sitting:
Start by lengthening your torso and “sitting up straight.” You’ll probably be surprised at how much you were just slouching without even realizing it! Roll your shoulders back to relax them and align them with your hips, and place your feet flat on the floor so that your torso-to-thigh and thigh-to-calf angles should both be 90 degrees. Make sure you’re not holding tension in your shoulders and keeping them up too high or hunching them forward toward whatever you’re working on, even though it’s always quite tempting.
If you’re standing:
Your ears, shoulders, hips, and ankles should all be in one lovely straight line for optimal standing posture. It’s best to stand with your feet about hip-distance apart instead of with feet together or spread widely. You’ll also want to keep your toes pointing forward, avoid locking the knees, keep equal weight in both legs or shift back and forth slightly, and keep the spine long and straight. Think about how in movies, children are taught to maintain proper walking posture by walking while balancing a book on their heads. There really is benefit to keeping the chin up and parallel to the floor, because it helps to keep your back straight and your shoulders down and back, as well!
If you’re sleeping:
Maintaining good posture while sleeping can be extremely difficult because it’s always just easiest to lay the way that feels most comfortable instead of sleeping in a way that’s best for your spine. I’m always tempted to sleep sprawled out on my stomach, but this is actually one of the worst positions in which to sleep according to the American Chiropractic Association. Sleeping on your stomach can cause the spine to be curved backward more than it should, causing unnecessary strain on the back muscles and that unwanted soreness in the morning when you finally try to roll over. The best ways to sleep for your spine and muscular health are on your side with a pillow between your legs, or on your back with a pillow under your knees. These sleeping positions might take a little getting used to, but can actually be quite comfortable if you’re willing to give it a try, and can help you to sleep better by reducing stress on your body.
If you’re exercising:
When exercising, posture is more commonly referred to as “proper form,” but is just as important as during all other times of your daily life. During weight lifting exercises especially, it’s important to keep the shoulders and shoulder blades down and back and the chest and face up and forward, as they would be when you’re standing. Make sure that you learn the proper form for any exercise before you attempt it or do that exercise regularly to ensure maximum benefit and minimal damage to your body. If you feel that you have poor posture in your daily life, incorporating gentle muscle-strengthening exercises into your week, such as yoga or light weight lifting can help you gain the strength to naturally hold your body in a healthier position. Superman and cobra poses and exercises can be great for strengthening weak back muscles and stretching out the abdominals, and the Warrior yoga poses can be good for stretching out your hips if they have that achy feeling after a long day of sitting.
The good news is that you are completely in control of your posture, and it’s never too late to make great changes to improve your health and comfort! It can be so hard to pay attention to something as seemingly simple as the way we stand, sit, or ever sleep, but just developing this healthy habit can have long-lasting benefits to our overall health. In addition to improving your skeletal and muscular health, proper posture can also help you to simply look more respectable in a meeting, classroom, or interview setting and portrays a confident appearance as opposed to an apathetic, tired appearance if you’re slouching over the table in your seat. Comfort is important, but before you curl into a tiny ball in one of the comfortable chairs in the library, consider giving a day of good posture a try to improve not only your health and long-term comfort, but to create a setting of wakefulness and focus as you sit down to finish that paper!