You’ve heard it countless times, sit up straight, keep your elbows off the table, don’t slouch, and so on… well other than ascetics and manners, posture is extremely important; it is key in your muscular-skeletal structure and can even affect the functionality of organs.
The most evident health benefit of having good posture is it can help and prevent back and neck pain. These are often the conditions where treatment can simply be to sit and stand up straight – though often times there is more to it than that. An interesting fact in the etiology of posture and the human skeletal system is that ancestral and indigenous humans did not have the S shape spines we see today, theirs were J-shaped. The change in spinal shape has to do with our activity level going down over time. For hundreds of years human had to hunt, gather, and travel by foot, which, kept their bodies strong, aligned, and pain-free. In older times there were very few cases of back pain, herniated disks, pinched vertebrae, etc. not caused by trauma. But now with more desk jobs and Netflix sitting has become so common in our lives that our spinal chords have changed shape to more of a spring to cope with the high quantity of sitting. It’s pretty amazing that only in a couple hundred years have we changed the anatomical structure of our entire body. But though this change was to cope with lifestyle changes, it clearly isn’t preventing disk degeneration and back pain.
A less apparent perk of good posture is it ensures organs are utilized to the fullest. By keeping organs positioned correctly they can communicate and transfer nutrients as effective as possible. If this is hard to believe or visualize, picture it like a water hose that is being stepped on and less water makes it through the other end; organ communication and nutrient transport works like that. Slouching and having bad posture can put kinks in body transmissions. Surgeons have reported abdominal nerves, arteries, blood vessels, and veins’ being under more tension in individuals who’s poor posture has caused misalignments. There have also been correlations with impaired circulatory and digestive systems.
Having good posture is one of the best things you can do to keep a healthy spine and longevity in joints. The spine and joints take on the most impact of anywhere in the body so if they are taken care of, the less likely problems will arise from them in the future. However, bad posture can be fixed at any time, it may not be easy but having the discipline to retrain muscles by sitting up straight will ease this tension and could help treat preexisting joint and spine conditions.
So what does good posture look like? Good posture is when your spine is aligned with the shoulders, hips, and ankles all perfectly on top of each other. Instead of being bent over and having a forward neck curve or a hunched back. But being too stiff and upright could be bad too. Good posture comes from strengthening three parts of the body, the calves, core, and upper back. Even though calves sounds like it is unrelated to posture, they are important for creating a sturdy foundation to distribute weight for all body parts above it. Below are 6 simple exercises and modifications to everyday activities that will improve posture.
- When standing or sitting, instead of forcing a straight back, subtly imagine a string attached to the top of your head lightly lifting the body upwards, and act it. This imagery can help with restoring posture and is commonly a tip from most holistic professionals.
- When sitting down at a table, sit closer to the table and keep your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. This will give your body less room to slouch and keep it stationed firmly by having this support on the ground.
- As stated before calves are important for good posture and they can be strengthened doing just about anything. But an exercise to target them directly is calf raises. Calf raises are raising your body upwards by lifting from your toes. These can be done on the flat floor or hanging the back half of your feet off an edge, this is great to do on stairs while holding onto the railing for balance. After doing around 30 – 40 calf raises you’ll feel the workout move from calves to glutes and back muscles.
- Stand with your back, butt, and head against the wall; they should all be straight and using the wall as a reference for alignment. Then tuck your chin into your neck and push interiorly then hold for three seconds. Repeat abut 5 -10 times but don’t push it. Since this is a neck exercise it is important it is not overdone so an injury is avoided. This exercise strengthens and syncs the Erector Spinae, commonly known as the side bender muscles.
- A popular gym machine is a lateral pull down; this is a great exercise for posture. The lateral pull down works a lot of upper back muscles. Good form is, of course, important but it’s even more important to work with a suitable weight. It is very possible that lifting to heavy weight can overwork some muscles while leaving out others; it is great to start with a lighter weight where you are confident that the muscles are being worked correctly.
- One of the most important exercises that can be done not only for posture but all around core strengthening is a plank. Planks come in many variations but they all work fantastically. If you can staying consistent with a routine of planking for three reps of one minute hold times once every other day the positive effects will follow shortly.
As a species, our natural posture has drifted so far from what the human body was evolved to be that restoring it has to be worked toward. In a sense, poor posture is a disconnect from our true self. But with dedication and knowledge fixing posture will be a challenging yet rewarding test and before you know it, having perfect posture will become effortless.