There are an endless amount of good things we should be doing for our health. Eating clean, going to the gym, taking supplements, not watching Netflix late into the night, etc. And truth be told, a lot of these healthy habits take a lot of effort. Luckily, we can think of one change you can make that requires practically no effort at all: It’s time to improve your posture! You may think your bad posture is only affecting how tall you appear, but the scary truth is that it can affect both your physical and mental health.
Source: Laura Makabresku
A study from the University of San Francisco has shed some light on how walking with a slouched, despondent body posture can lead to feelings of depression or decreased energy. Luckily, walking in a more upright position can reverse those feelings. Professor of Health Education Erik Peper found that altering body posture to a more upright position improves mood and energy levels. “We tend to think the brain and body relationship goes one way. In fact, the passages go both ways,” Peper said. “When you choose to put your body in a different mode, it’s harder to drop into depression.”
Similar to how movement and exercise can open up biological pathways that increase happiness and energy, so can posture. “What we’re saying is that if you start integrating more body movements into your daily life, your energy level stays higher and your quality of life is better,” Peper said. “It’s very similar to the principle of ‘fake it till you make it,’ you can convince your body to have more energy.”
Peper surveyed 110 students who were instructed to walk down the hallway in a slouched position and then skip down the hallway. A few minutes later, the students were asked to rate their subjective energy levels. For the entire group, slouched walking decreased energy levels while skipping increased energy. Peper acknowledges there are other factors that influence depression and energy levels, but believes improving posture can lend a helping hand in the fight against depression.
Muscle Pain and Fatigue
If you commonly find your body is tired, achy, tight or stiff for no reason, then your posture may be the cause. According to the Kansas Chiropractic Foundation, if you have poor posture your muscles have to work harder to hold you up. Energy is wasted when you move and you are left without the extra energy you need to feel good.
Tight, achy muscles (especially in the neck, back, arms and legs) are also caused by bad posture. More than 80% of neck and back problems are the result of tight, achy muscles caused by years of bad posture. Fixing your posture will also decrease the chances that you will be affected by degenerative osteoarthritis in later years.
A study from Columbia University and Harvard University argues that stress is increased by bad posture. The study showed that people who adopted powerful postures, open shoulders, and straight spines had a 20% increase in testosterone levels and a 25% decrease in cortisol level. Those who slouched had a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol. What do all of these changes in hormones mean? High stress.
When you sit slouched over, it affects your breathing. Shallow chest breathing strains your lungs, which then requires your lungs to move faster to ensure adequate oxygen flow. This taxes the heart—it is forced to speed up to provide enough blood for oxygen transport. The result is a vicious cycle where stress prompts shallow breathing and in turn creates more stress on the body.
Pain caused by posture can appear in surprising ways. When you lean your head forward while seated, you may be more likely to clench your jaw. Tightening facial muscles and clenching your jaw can lead to both headaches and jaw pain. Clenching also causes you to grind your teeth, which wears down enamel and causes tooth sensitivity. By repeatedly clenching, your jaw causes tension in the temporomandibular joint, wearing it down. This tension can cause other health problems such as neck and upper back pain.
Be careful not to over correct your posture. Overcorrecting and pulling your shoulders backward can cause you to tense muscles, creating pain and stiffness in your back. Eventually shoulder pain and poor posture can lead to conditions that leave the shoulder permanently rounded or contribute to joint degeneration in your spinal column.
Poor posture can affect not only how confident you feel, but also how confident others see you. Across species, body posture is often the primary representation of power. In members of the animal kingdom, fish, reptiles, and non-human primates express and infer power through expansive postures, large body size, or the perception of large body size.
For humans there is also a link between expansive posture and feeling and acting powerful. Expansive postures, widespread limbs, and enlargement of occupied space by spreading one’s body increase feelings of power and an appetite for risk (compared with closed and constricted postures, limbs touching the torso, and minimization of occupied space by collapsing the body inward).
Researchers gave participants $2 and told them they could keep this money or roll a die and risk losing the $2 for a payout of $4. Participants who had been placed in the expansive posture reported feeling significantly more “powerful” and “in charge” and were also 45% more likely to roll the die. For a quick confidence boost before a job interview or an important meeting, strike a superhero pose. Seriously.
How to Improve Your Posture
Source: Pop Sugar Fitness
Now that you have been scared straight, it is time to fix your posture!
How You Exercise
Strengthen your core through workouts such as yoga or pilates or any program that targets your entire core with slow, controlled movements.
How You Sit
Sit with your back aligned against the back of your office chair. Do your best to avoid slouching or leaning forward. When sitting on an office chair at a desk, arms should be flexed at a 75 to 90 degree angle at the elbows. Keep your knees even with the hips or slightly higher. Make sure both feet are flat on the floor. But most importantly get up, walk around, and stretch every once in awhile.
How You Stand
Stand with your weight mostly on the balls of your feet and not on your heels. Keep your feet slightly apart (around shoulder width). Allow your arms to hang naturally down the sides of your body and avoid locking your knees. If you find yourself standing for a long period of time, shift your weight from one foot to the other or rock from heels to toes. Tuck the chin in a little to keep the head level. And of course stand straight and tall with your shoulders upright.
How You Walk
When walking, be sure to keep your head up and your eyes looking straight ahead. Avoid pushing your head forward and keep your shoulders properly aligned with the rest of the body.
How You Drive
Sit with your back firmly against the seat. Keep the seat a proper distance from the pedals and steering wheel to avoid leaning forward or having to strain to reach the wheel. The headrest should support the middle of the head to keep it upright. Tilt the headrest forward, if possible, to make sure the head to headrest distance is not more than four inches.