Correct Posture and Its Impact on Your Health

Photo+credit%3A+Office-breaks.com

Photo credit: Office-breaks.com

Nina Kini, Public Health Editor/Contributing Writer, Placentia CA

Bad posture. The cause of that little ache at the base of your back that won’t go away. It seems that having bad posture is a rite of passage for most teenagers in the 21st century. In the last few decades, as young adults across America are putting in more and more desk time, the rates of joint pain, back aches, and sore necks have skyrocketed. And now with millions of students around the world participating in online learning during the Covid-19 crisis, many young people find themselves permanently glued to their seats for hours on end. It’s no secret that extended amounts of inactivity and ‘hunching over the computer’ can do a number on your health. So how does bad posture affect our health, and what can we do to improve it? 

 

Sitting up straight

Since the majority of back soreness comes from extended periods of sitting, one of the most important times to maintain good posture is while seated. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration chiropractor Steven Weiniger, “check that your torso and neck are vertical and your back is fully supported by the chair”. A good way to think about this is to visualize that there’s a hook at the back of your head pulling you up towards the sky, kind of like a marionette doll. Sometimes, it can be helpful to keep a small pillow under you to give more support. Your thighs should be just about horizontal, and your feet flat on the floor. Many people prefer to sit cross-legged, but this can actually end up leading to lower back pain over time. The cross-legged position rotates the pelvis and can put undue stress on the muscles of the lower back. 1 Despite popular belief, sitting up straight doesn’t necessarily involve tightening your muscles to straighten your back. Correct posture should actually be relaxed. Try to hold your head level (not tilted or excessively bent), and slowly loosen up your shoulders, allowing your chest to open up and move forward. This technique can be used while sitting or standing, and it also has the added benefit of letting more oxygen into your lungs by expanding the space inside the diaphragm. 

While using a computer, it’s important to not lean forward unnecessary and stress your neck. For a comparison, one study found that tilting your head forward just 30 degrees (like many of us do while looking down at homework), is like asking your neck and spine to carry an extra 40 pounds. Instead, keep your hands and wrists flat on the dest, and your elbows close to you. If you’re doing a lot of typing, consider purchasing a typing pad to rest your wrists. Although all of these suggestions are important, the most crucial step to helping your back is taking breaks. Every 20-30 minutes, stand up, walk around, and wiggle it out a little bit. Remember to stretch your neck and focus your eyes on something non-electronic. You may even want to consider getting a drink of water or a snack to increase your productivity and the nutrients circulating throughout your muscles. It can be easy to forget to take these crucial breaks every so often, especially when we’re super concentrated on the task at hand. As stated before though, the key to good posture is giving your muscles an appropriate rest and letting them return to a non-stressful position for a minute or two. This can really help prevent long term ailments and chronic aches. 

 

Keeping up that core

The majority of posture aches are a result of overused, worn-out, tight muscles or joints. For this reason, many physical therapists recommend core-strengthening exercises to build muscle mass and prevent quick muscle fatigue. A variety of the common techniques used in yoga and pilates work to tone and stretch out your abdominal, low back, and neck muscles. Some examples of simple and efficient exercises include sit-ups, planks, and cobra-pose (for those of you who enjoy yoga). Participating in sports or other high-intensity activities like jogging or biking for at least half an hour a day has also been shown to increase overall body muscle mass. 

If you have a little extra time on your hands, consider lying down for 5-10 minutes to allow all the muscles in your body to rest, and focus on slow and steady breathing to get maximum oxygen intake for muscle nutrition. Obviously, on busy days posture care can easily fall to the wayside. Sometimes, it helps to keep an alarm to remind you to get up and stretch every half an hour. Maybe you might want to have a designated time every day to put on your shoes and go for a neighborhood run to loosen up. Either way, taking care of your muscles is the best way to maintain good posture, and should be a priority for yourself every day. 

Photo credit: https://atlas-content-cdn.pixelsquid.com/stock-images/lego-man-cap-running-people-OxvYry3-600.jpg

The positive effects of good posture

For a lot of people, the route to taking care of your body seems like a lot of work, with just a little bit of pay-off. However, science tells a different story. In a 2018 study, scientists randomly selected two different groups of adults for an experiment. The first group was told to maintain good posture while they walked around in preparation for speaking to a panel of judges about why they should be hired for their dream job. The second group did the same exact thing, but without maintaining good posture. The results? The group with good posture reported feeling more ‘powerful and less pained’ during their presentation. As said by the study coauthor Elizabeth Broadbent, PhD, “Upright posture can help people feel more alert and confident, as well as lower their physiological response to stress”. In a different study, it was “26% more difficult for adults to do a simple math calculation (mentally subtracting 7 serially from 694 for 30 seconds) when they sat in a slouched position versus an upright one”. According to Erik Peper, PhD, a professor of holistic health at SFSU, “Slouching is a conditional cue – it triggers memories of times you may have felt exhausted and defeated”. Instead, sitting up in your seat or standing tall on your feet can serve as an immediate self-confidence booster. So the next time you sit down for a couple hours of homework, keep your posture in mind. Take good care of your muscles, and they’ll help you focus on what’s most important. 

 

Photo credit: theorganizedhousewife.com

 

Works Cited

Ambardekar, Nayana. “Exercises to Improve Your Posture.” WebMD, WebMD, 8 Sept. 2019, www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/better-posture-exercises#2

Asp, Karen. “Straight-Up Advice.” Real Simple Mag., Aug. 2020. 

 

Ferris, Emma, et al. “Posture and Breathing: The Physiological Effects of Shallow Breaths.” The Breath Effect, 23 Feb. 2019, www.thebreatheffect.com/posture-breathing-physiological-effects/.

“Medical Information and Health Advice You Can Trust.” Healthline, Healthline Media, www.healthline.com/.