Simple ways to improve your posture
If you are reading this at a table, you’re probably sitting incorrectly. If you are reading this huddled over your phone, you almost definitely are.
“Shoulders back” and “sit up straight” might be parental nags we have all heard (or made) but those parents were right: good posture is vitally important for good health.
Why should I improve my posture?
Poor posture will lead to muscles and joints that don’t function properly, so they ache or are prone to injuries. Slouching means your lungs don’t have enough room to reach their full capacity, leaving your body without enough oxygen and more easily fatigued.
Slouching and bad posture are not only bad for your back, they can also increase the likelihood of depression, lower your energy levels and restrict your circulation.
Add all that together and poor posture is very bad news indeed – especially if you spend a lot of time sitting. The good news is that there are some simple and easy tricks for correcting your posture and improving your health.
Quick posture fix?
Repositioning your sitting position so that your ears are in line with your shoulders will help correct your posture, and ensure that your neck and back are in perfect alignment.
Properly positioning your shoulder blades is equally important. Make sure to draw them back and down. This will keep your chest up and out, helping to prevent rounded shoulders.
How can I improve my posture in the long term?
Here are our top tips to improve your posture, and keep fatigue and aches at bay.
1. Sit properly
Many of us have jobs where we spend large amounts of time sitting down, so it’s one of the most important aspects of posture to get right.
Make sure you sit with both feet on the floor or on a footrest (uncross those legs!), your knees should face forwards and should be at or below your hip level. Shoulders should be relaxed, with your forearms parallel to the ground and your backrest should support your whole back. “The human body is designed to squat,” says Wendy Scott, a body-control Pilates teacher and owner of Gaia Studios in London. “Chairs are the ruination of many people.”
To find the best sitting position, Wendy recommends picturing your pelvis as a bowl full to the brim with liquid which you have to keep level and not spill a drop. “The spine realigns when your pelvis is in this neutral position,” she explains.
2. Move those muscles
“Even if you’re sitting well, a lack of movement is the single biggest cause of joint and muscle pain,” says physiotherapist Matthew Murray-Downing. “Stick a Post-it on your screen reminding you to get up and move around. You need to keep a regular blood flow to muscles and lubricate your joints by moving them. When you’re at a desk, take regular breaks, or at least stretch your arms, legs, back and neck. And be active when you’re out of work – walk, run, jog … anything that raises your heart rate and is a weight-bearing exercise.”
3. Stand tall
Thinking about how you stand can help you to do it properly. Are you leaning on one leg? Are your bottom or stomach sticking out? “Awareness of what you’re doing is very important,” says Wendy.
“I often start a class by asking clients to close their eyes and rock back and forth on their feet. If your weight isn’t equally spread through your feet it will put everything else out of balance. What you want is a tripod of support with your big toe, your little toe and your heels feeling equally connected to the floor.”
4. Get rid of tension
It’s not just muscles that can hold tension and gently pull joints out of alignment, it’s also the fascia – the connective tissue – that covers the muscles, a little like a tight-fitting wetsuit. If it’s too tight in one area it can restrict movement in another area. Gentle massages with foam rollers or massage balls can help to remove this tension and relieve any muscle restrictions.
5. Balance your movements
If you do something with one side of your body a lot, such as carrying a bag or a child, it’s going to lead to a muscular imbalance that can affect your posture.
“I work with several chefs, who are continually chopping and stirring with their right arm,” says Wendy. “It’s difficult for them to change that but Pilates helps them to balance it out and make sure they’re not just moving in one particular way all the time.”
6. Combat the pain
“If you are already experiencing joint or muscle pain, do something to address it,” says Matthew. “Look at your desk set-up or the position of your car seat and make sure you’re as upright as possible. Move more, as pain doesn’t mean you should stop being active. And get a bit of help if you can – many workplaces will offer this. Posture-related problems can start at any age so don’t ignore the signs.”
7. Build up your core
A strong muscular core helps to hold your joints in the right positions. Build this up with some muscle-strengthening exercises such as spine curls, otherwise known as the bridge.
“This is a Pilates exercise where you lie on your back with your knees bent about hip width apart, then slowly lift your back off the ground one vertebrae at a time, starting with your tailbone and continuing until your hips are in a straight line with your shoulders. Keeping your buttocks tightened, lower yourself down one vertebra at a time. It feels nice for the spine, opens up your hip flexors and works your glutes,” says Wendy.
Another exercise to counteract the effects of a hunched posture is the cobra. Lie on your front with your hands by your ribcage and elbows bent. Starting with your neck, stretch it forward and lift your chest until your weight is on your hands, but you are not straining your lower back. Then gradually lower yourself again.