SIX STEPS TO BETTER POSTURE
We could go ON and ON about posture, (and we do) mostly because it has such long-lasting impacts on our physical and mental wellbeing. According to a study published in the Journal of American Medicine, Americans are sitting on average for 8.2 hours a day, this number has likely increased due to work from home restrictions. Extended periods of sitting can lead to a myriad of health risks, including heart disease, depression, and back pain. However, it can also significantly affect your ability to maintain any amount of good posture.
Our bodies are designed to move and be active rather than sedentary. Sitting for extended periods can throw off your natural postural balance causing overstretched spinal ligaments, compressed spinal disks, rounded and tense shoulders, tight hip flexors, and inactive gluteal muscles (to name a few). Poor posture can trigger a chain reaction of imbalances in the body and cause extra stress on the joints.
In addition to the health impacts of poor posture, it also has the power of defining us from an observational perspective. Others can observe our posture and make judgments about how we are feeling, what we might be thinking, and even our level of confidence. We are communicating through our posture without realizing it, and this is true of in-person AND virtual communication methods.
Posture not only affects the way others see you; it also affects how you see and feel about yourself. Research conducted at Ohio State University appearing in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that students who were instructed to sit with tall posture were more likely to believe positive thoughts about their future job qualifications. Alternatively, participants who were asked to sit slumped in their chairs were less likely to accept these written down job qualifications.
"Most of us were taught that sitting up straight gives a good impression to other people. But it turns out that our posture can also affect how we think about ourselves. If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you're in."
Richard Petty, Ohio State University professor of psychology and study co-author.
What can I do to improve my posture?
Poor posture usually starts as a casual bad habit that gradually becomes automatic over time. Like any habit you are looking to break, it takes time and an action plan to slowly untangle the physical and mental structures built around the habit. The reason physical patterns are so difficult to break is that they become ingrained in our bodies over time. Continued repetition of the same physical movement daily for an extended period will eventually become habitual in the body. Think about the way you brush your teeth, you tend to hold the brush, move your arm and even stand in the same unique position every time you perform this task, and you do it automatically without thinking about it. Your posture works similarly. Poor posture can stem from observed behavior during childhood and adolescence, a gradual shift due to poor ergonomic setup, exhaustion, or compensation due to injury.
Regardless of where you are at with your posture, there are still ways of improving it.
Some research suggests it takes 21 days to break a habit; however, we've found that it's difficult to break a habit without creating a positive replacement habit. Researchers from University College London examined new habits of 96 people over 12 weeks. They found that the average time it takes for a new habit to stick is about 66 days; this can vary from person to person. This time commitment can sound a bit daunting, possibly making you want to give up before you begin. The Narrative Body believes that taking baby steps towards better posture is the key to success, SO we've decided to share our action plan with you! Below are the six steps to improving your posture, including our top tips for success, fundamental movements, stretches, and postural insights.
The Narrative Body's SIX STEPS TO BETTER POSTURE
The first step to improving your posture is awareness. We can’t begin to change our posture until we are aware of our strengths and weaknesses. The best way to draw awareness to your posture is to set a daily reminder. We have found the daily reminder to be THE MOST BENEFICIAL step to improving posture. Check out our step-by-step tutorial to set up a daily reminder that is free and easy using an iPhone. 📲 There are also several reminder Apps you can download, such as BZ Reminder and Google Keep Notes. If you prefer to go without tech, dig out your old alarm clock and remember to set it daily, ⏰ We recommend setting the alarm during a “mid-day slump” (between 1 pm-4 pm is ideal) Set on silent mode if you know you’ll be in meetings during this time. Set the alarm every day for the next 30-60 days, or as long as you need a reminder.
When the alarm goes off, check in with your posture:
Are you slumped forward in a chair?
Are you leaning on something?
Are your legs crossed, or are they flat on the ground?
Do you feel tightness in your shoulders or hips?
Take a few notes about what you notice daily. You might begin to see a pattern; from there, you can start making small shifts daily to improve your posture.
When we slouch, our diaphragm (primary breathing muscle) cannot function properly, and our lungs become compressed. Over time poor postural habits can shift your breathing patterns from deep belly breaths, which is ideal to short chest breaths. Chest breathing can weaken respiratory muscles and force the upper chest (pectoralis minor) and throat (sternocleidomastoid and scalenes) to work overtime. These muscles weren't designed to function in this way; therefore, overuse can cause a cascade of issues including tightness, tension, stress, anxiety, and headaches.
Follow the steps below to practice diaphragmatic breathing
Sit with a neutral spine and place both feet on the floor
Relax your neck and shoulders and soften muscles of the face
Place one had to your belly and the other hand to your chest
Close your eyes and take a slow inhale through your nose
As you inhale try to sense the breath moving into the hand that is on your belly, rather than the hand on your chest. (your belly will expand softly) This might take some time, be patient with yourself.
Exhale through pursed lips, sensing a slight hiss through the back of your throat. The hand on your chest should remain relatively still, the hand on your belly should draw toward the body with the exhalation
As you continue to exhale, sense your abdominals wrapping around the midline of your body (visualize a hugging or drawing in sensation)
Take some time to practice this breathing technique until it feels automatic
If you feel lightheaded take breaks as needed.
3. Set up
Set yourself up for success. It will be challenging to improve your posture if you are working in a poor ergonomic setup. For those working from home these days, here are a few ways to improve your setup to promote better posture.
Invest in a desk chair. Look for one that provides lumbar support, and also has height adjustments to comfortably place your feet flat on the floor with legs bent at a 90-degree angle. Bonus if you find one with adjustable arm supports.
Your arms should rest at a comfortable 90-degree angle bend with no strain in your wrists as you type on your keyboard. If this isn't possible with your laptop, consider investing in a separate keyboard or monitor.
Align your webcam with your eye height so you don't need to shift your posture or strain your neck when you are on video calls. Keep your monitor roughly about 18-22'' from your face. These measures will ensure that your face is framed appropriately for video calls.
4. Stand up
Go ahead, stand up! We know from above that sitting too much an be the culprit of poor posture and a myriad of health risks. We also know It's real easy to get stuck behind your computer, on your couch, or falling into a black hole of social media for hours. In a perfect world, we would remember to stand up take a quick stretch or walk around, but truthfully it's easy to forget. If you find yourself sitting several hours a day, try to set a reminder to stand up at least once every 30 min and take a few moments to move, stretch, and breathe. There are also several ways to set up screen limitation times on computers, iPads, and phones. Adults need to limit screen time just as much as children do!
Poor posture can develop slowly over time, therefore stretching is necessary to help unravel poor postural habits from the past as well as help lengthen, mobilize, and invigorate the body to promote better posture in the future. Click through to see some fundamental postural stretches.
We've saved the best for last! To improve your posture, you must also begin to implement fundamental core strengthening exercises. The core muscles help move, stabilize, and support the spine. Think about your core like a box; all four sides of the box need to be working, strong, and supportive for optimal functioning. The core is comprised of your pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, and erector spinae. The core muscles of the front body help with flexion, such as bending forward, lifting, and arching the lower back. The extensor muscles are attached to the back of the spine and enable standing and lifting objects. Implementing core strength exercises can help you develop these muscles to support the spine and ultimately improve your posture. Click through to see core strengthing movements.
To learn more about how you can improve your posture visit www.thenarrativebody.com
Disclaimer: The Narrative Body strongly recommends checking with your doctor or medical professional before beginning any movement or exercise program. This post and website is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider.