“Sit up straight!” “Don’t slouch!”

I’m sure we’ve all heard those admonishing words more than once from our mother when we were growing up. And most of us would roll our eyes and as soon as mom walked away we’d slump back over in a hunch. Little did you know that she wasn’t just annoyed with how you were standing or sitting, there is a reason behind the madness! In fact she probably wasn’t aware of all the implications of poor posture herself! But somehow, some way your mother always seemed to know best.

What is good posture anyway and why is it so important?

Basically posture refers to the body’s alignment and positioning with respect to the ever-present force of gravity. Whether we are standing, sitting or lying down gravity exerts a force on our joints, ligaments and muscles. Good posture entails distributing the force of gravity through our body so no one structure is over stressed.

So why is good posture so important?  Yes, we know we look taller and slimmer and look like we have the world’s confidence on our shoulders, but here are a few health reasons why good posture is so vital:

  • Breathing becomes easier and deeper.  In doctor’s offices we are often asked to sit up straight while listening to lung sounds. This rarely has permanent effect because by the time someone needs to be reminded to do so, their body has adapted to be more comfortable in the slouching position. When they attempt to sit up “straight” they actually tighten the already over-shortened frontal muscles and tendons and this causes restrictions in the ease of breathing volume; tightening these muscles even slightly to make oneself more erect causes tightness in the entire upper body and reduces the ease of deeper breathing.
  • Improves circulation and digestion.
    When it comes to the digestive system, proper posture allows the internal organs in the abdomen to assume their natural position without undue compression, which can interfere with the normal flow and function of the gastrointestinal apparatus. An improper, slouched posture has been postulated as a contributing factor to several digestive problems from acid reflux to constipation and even hernias.
  • Help your muscles and joints.
    Good posture helps us keep bones and joints in correct alignment so that our muscles are used correctly, decreasing the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could result in degenerative arthritis and joint pain. It also reduces the stress on the ligaments holding the spinal joints together, minimizing the likelihood of injury. A good posture allows muscles to work more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy and, therefore, preventing muscle fatigue. It also helps prevent muscle strain, overuse disorders, and even back and muscular pain.
  • Change your frame of mind.
    Posture also affects your frame of mind and your frame of mind can affect your posture. So, when you are well, feeling happy and on top of things, posture tends to be upright and open. In contrast, people who are depressed and in chronic pain, often sit or stand slumped.
  • Healthy spine  Correct posture is a simple but very important way to keep the many intricate structures in the back and spine healthy. Back support is especially important for people who spend many hours sitting in an office chair or standing throughout the day.Not maintaining good posture and adequate back support can add strain to muscles and put stress on the spine. Over time, the stress of poor posture can change the anatomical characteristics of the spine, leading to the possibility of constricted blood vessels and nerves.

Apart from doing the correct exercises, here are a few tips to follow to improve your posture:

How do I sit properly?

  • Keep your feet on the floor or on a footrest, if they don’t reach the floor.
  • Don’t cross your legs. Your ankles should be in front of your knees.
  • Keep a small gap between the back of your knees and the front of your seat.
  • Your knees should be at or below the level of your hips.
  • Adjust the backrest of your chair to support your low- and mid-back or use a back support.
  • Relax your shoulders and keep your forearms parallel to the ground.
  • Avoid sitting in the same position for long periods of time.

How do I stand properly?

  • Bear your weight primarily on the balls of your feet.
  • Keep your knees slightly bent.
  • Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  • Let your arms hang naturally down the sides of the body.
  • Stand straight and tall with your shoulders pulled backward.
  • Tuck your stomach in.
  • Keep your head level-your earlobes should be in line with your shoulders. Do not push your head forward, backward, or to the side.
  • Shift your weight from your toes to your heels, or one foot to the other, if you have to stand for a long time.

What is the proper lying position?

  • Find the mattress that is right for you. While a firm mattress is generally recommended, some people find that softer mattresses reduce their back pain. Your comfort is important.
  • Sleep with a pillow. Special pillows are available to help with postural problems resulting from a poor sleeping position.
  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
  • Sleeping on your side or back is more often helpful for back pain. If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your legs. If you sleep on your back, keep a pillow under your knees.

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