If you're tired, have headaches or back pain, and aren't sure why, check your posture. As we age our bones and muscles weaken. However, something as simple as the way we stand, sit and walk can make a big difference.
We don't often think about it, but our posture sends a message to our own body and to other people.
Years ago a lady trained herself to sit, stand and walk correctly by balancing a book on her head because good posture is synonymous with poise and elegance. While those qualities may not be as valuable today, there are still lots of other reasons to practice good posture.
Health Benefits of Good Posture
Good posture can make you appear thinner, taller and younger. It also makes you look more confident, and believe it or not, research shows we actually feel that way, too. On the other hand, slouching makes you look and feel tired.
Dr. Mladen Golubic, medical director for the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute, says maintaining good posture helps you stay alert and focused.
"When you slump, you have reduced your capacity to inhale properly, to inhale through your diaphragmatic breathing rather than just expanding the chest," he pointed out. "So quickly that could lead to feeling tired and exhausted and feeling sleepy."
Bad posture stresses joints and muscles which can cause back pain, headaches and long-term injuries.
How to Improve Your Posture
YMCA personal trainer Susan Buonviri teaches her clients good standing posture by first having them practice proper body alignment while looking in a full-length mirror.
"Keep your shoulders down and relaxed," she instructed. "We need to pull our shoulder blades together and we have to make sure that our ears are centered over the shoulders, shoulders over ribs, ribs over hips, hips over knees and knees over ankles."
When you're sitting, Buonviri says good posture means both feet on the floor, under your knees, weight evenly distributed. Your shoulders should be relaxed, straight down, but your spine should be lifted.
"Think of having a corset around our mid-section that kind of forces everything up and causes us to sit up a little bit taller," she added.
Maintaining good posture can be challenging. But it is easier if you are a healthy weight, if you strengthen your spine and if you strengthen the muscles that surround your spine, also called your "core." Those muscles include your back, abdominals and obliques.
Buonviri recommends a number of exercises that most people can do in the comfort of their own home. One exercise requires you to lie on your stomach and lift your legs, then your chest, and if you can, both your legs and chest at the same time.
Another involves getting on all-fours, making sure to keep the back flat. Then lift one arm up so that it is level with your back, then lift the opposite leg so it, too, is level with the back. Hold, and then do it with the other arm and opposite leg.
"This is spinal stabilization, very important for good posture," she explained.
Another great exercise to strengthen your core involves lying on your stomach. Then, while balancing your weight on your elbows and your toes, lift the rest of your body like a plank.
"And you can feel how all of those muscles, abdominal muscles, lower back, internal and external obliques, everything helps to keep you lifted," Buonviri said.
To see exercises that can help improve your posture click play.
In addition to strengthening the muscles surrounding the spine, you can strengthen the spine itself by making sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D. When it comes to sitting, even though good posture is very important, we need to be much more concerned about how long we sit.
Too Much Sitting Deadly
Too many uninterrupted hours on your duff could lead to an early death, according to Dr. Golubic. He says it even has a name: Sedentary Death Syndrome.
"Sedentary Death Syndrome is a term that was designed to describe a variety of lifestyle-related diseases and symptoms that develop as a result of sitting," he explained. "It leads to increased risk of coronary heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, certain types of cancer.
"So that's the real reason why it's called Sedentary Death Syndrome because ultimately it leads to death," he said.
As bad as that is, the solution is fairly easy. You don't have to quit your desk job. Just simply make some modifications to the way you work. All of them involve standing up as often as you can.
Some suggestions include setting an alarm as a reminder to take a lap or two around your work area. Instead of emailing a co-worker walk over to them. Convert your regular desk to a stand-up desk, or better yet, put a treadmill under your desk.
"We know that we need to interrupt those periods of sitting by just simply standing in short periods, maybe one or two minutes of moving around and then go back to sitting," Dr. Golubic instructed.
So whether you're standing, sitting or walking, good posture leads to good health and good looks. And remember, when you're sitting to make sure to break-up those long periods on your bottom by standing-up or moving around.