Good posture is a great habit. Here’s how to achieve it

October 26, 2011

Maintaining a healthy posture

When you were growing up, your parents probably reminded you to stand up straight. Sit nice and tall. And that may have been the last time you thought much about your posture. But good posture is important all through life.

It can make you look younger, thinner, and more confident. It can help you move more efficiently, so you have more energy. It can also help prevent back and muscle pain.

"Slumped or hunched shoulders are a major reason back pain affects 80 percent of Americans at some point in their lives," says Julie Deardorff. That's according to an article from chicagotribune.com titled "Proper Posture More Important than You Think."

You can't achieve good posture by workouts alone. It takes focus on habits, stretches, and exercises aimed at building it. The experts at the Mayo Clinic tell us that good posture should be natural. But you may feel stiff at first if you've forgotten how it feels to sit and stand up straight. The key is to practice good posture all the time. You can make improvements at any age.

A healthy back has three natural curves. They are:

  • An inward or forward curve at the neck.
  • An outward or backward curve at the upper back.
  • An inward curve at the lower back.

Good posture helps maintain these curves. Poor posture can stress or pull muscles and cause pain.

Good standing posture

The Mayo Clinic recommends that you keep these tips in mind when standing:

  • Hold your chest high.
  • Keep your shoulders back and relaxed.
  • Pull in your tummy and buttocks.
  • Keep your feel parallel.
  • Balance your weight evenly on both feet.

Also, try not to tilt your head. Knees should be relaxed, not locked.

The wall test

This is a good way to test your standing posture. Stand with your head, shoulder blades and buttocks touching a wall. Heels should be two to four inches away from the wall. Slide your hand behind the curve in your lower back. Palms should be flat against the wall.

You should feel about one hand's thickness of space between your back and the wall. If there's too much space, tighten your belly muscles to flatten the curve. If there's too little, arch your back a little. Keep this posture as you walk away from the wall. Try to keep it as you go about your day.

Exercises to help you stand up straight

Here are some exercises from the chicagotribune.com story that can help make your standing posture better. Of course, if you're having pain, see a doctor or physical therapist before you exercise.

  • The OJ Squeeze – Physical therapist, Paul Drew, is the author of *Red Carpet Posture*. In it, he says to pretend you're holding an orange between your shoulder blades. Try to make juice by bringing your shoulder blades down and together. This will stretch out the front of your shoulders.
  • The Shoulder Roll – Hunching your back can hurt the disks in your spine over time. Try moving one shoulder forward, upward, and back without moving the rest of your body. Gently slide your shoulder blade down along your spine. Repeat on the other side.
  • The Plank – Begin in push-up position with your arms straight. "Imagine a straight line from your legs through your torso to your neck," says Esther Gokhale, author of *8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back*. "Don't sag or lift your butt. If your shoulders are tensed toward your neck, roll them open. Hold for up to a minute."
  • The 5-Minute Rest – When your eyes are tired, your head tends to move forward. That can get your spine out of line. So, lie on your back for five minutes. Cup your hands over your eyes to block out light. Repeat once an hour, if you can.
  • Towel Chest Stretch – Fitness expert, Tracey Mallett, suggests this to keep shoulders from rounding forward. It stretches the chest and strengthens the mid-to-upper back. Stand tall with your legs about 18 inches apart. Hold a rolled-up bath towel with one end in each hand. Keeping the towel tight, reach arms forward at shoulder height. Breathe out and pull the arms up and as far back as you can. Hold for two breath cycles and return to start position. Repeat five more times.

Good sitting posture

The Cleveland Clinic offers these tips for good posture when you're sitting. Since many of us sit at a desk for hours each day, these can make a big difference.

  • Sit up with your back straight and your shoulders back. Your butt should touch the back of your chair.
  • All three curves of your back should be there when you sit. A small, rolled-up towel or lower back support can help you keep those curves.
  • Make sure your body weight is over both hips equally.
  • Bend your knees at a right angle. Keep knees even with or a little higher than your hips. Do not cross your legs.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Try not to sit in the same position for more than 30 minutes.
  • Adjust your chair and desk height so you can set up close to your work. Tilt your work toward you. Rest elbows and arms on your chair or desk. Keep your shoulders relaxed.
  • If your chair rolls or pivots, don't twist at the waist while sitting. Turn your whole body.
  • When you stand, move to the front of the seat. To stand up, straighten your legs. Then stretch your back by doing 10 standing backbends.

Stretches that help while you're at work

The following tips are from the Men's Health article, "7 Easy Stretches To Do at Work," by Jeff Csatari. He cites Alan Hedge, Ph.D., professor at Cornell University. "Employ the 20-20 rule," Hedge said. Every 20 minutes, stand for 20 seconds and stretch or shake things out. Just 20 seconds away from your computer screen reduces fatigue and increases blood circulation. Every two hours, try these moves to relax tight muscles.

  1. Sit in a chair with arms at your sides and feet flat on the floor. Gently raise your chest toward the ceiling, but don't look up. Keep your chin level with the floor. Hold this for 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
  2. Sit in the same position as above, but put your hands on your hips. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Feel the stretch in your chest. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
  3. Sit in the same position as in No. 1. Keep your chin level with the floor. Pull your chin, head and neck inward, but not down. Hold for 10 seconds. Then relax and repeat. Placing your finger on your upper lip can guide your head through the right range of motion.
  4. Again, sit in the same position as in #1. Dip your head forward slightly as if you were nodding "yes." Feel the stretch in the neck at the base of the head. Pause for 10 seconds. Relax and repeat 5 to 10 times.
  5. Stand upright. Clasp your hands behind your head. Flex your elbows back, while pinching your shoulder blades together. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
  6. Stand upright. Clasp your hands behind you at the small of your back. Pinch your shoulder blades together. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
  7. Stand, facing the corner of a room. Raise your hands to shoulder height. Place your forearms, elbows, and hands against each wall. Lean inward to stretch your chest muscles. Hold for 15 seconds, or until you feel loose. By raising or lowering the position of your arms, you can stretch different parts of your chest.

These stretches and exercises can help you feel better and enjoy better posture. Many can even help prevent or relieve back and neck pain. But none of them should cause pain. If they do, stop right away. Get the advice of a physician or physical therapist.

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