Here’s how to actually have good posture (and why you should).
Your mother probably told you to “stand up straight” more than a few times in your life. But hearing that you should improve your posture and knowing how and why to do it are two completely different things.
Posture is essentially how you hold your body, and it is critical for your comfort and health. “The goal of good posture is to minimize strain on your spine and make you more comfortable,” says Dr. Hamilton Hall, executive director of the Canadian Spine Society.
There are two types of posture. Dynamic posture refers to when you’re moving, and static posture is how you hold your body when standing, sitting and sleeping. Plenty of things, such as slouching throughout the day, regularly hunching over your phone or wearing high-heeled shoes, can throw off your alignment and lead to a slew of troubles down the road. In certain cases, people have health conditions, such as osteoarthritis, scoliosis and osteoporosis, which affect posture.
We know that good posture benefits spinal health. When you’re properly aligned, it means your back is working well and you’re comfortable, which is critical as we age. Surprisingly, posture also comes with a whack of additional benefits for your mind and body.
Confidence & Mood
“When you’re standing straight, you just look better,” says Dr. Hall. And don’t we know it—that’s why proper alignment is linked with self-assurance and a good mood. According to a significant 2009 study from The Ohio State University, our body posture positively affects what we think of ourselves.
Balance & Range of Motion
“Good posture aligns the body's centre of gravity over its base of support, which improves balance and is a first step toward fall prevention,” says Debbie Cheong, osteofit provincial coordinator at B.C. Women’s Hospital + Health Centre. “It will also improve the range of motion in our joints.” Cheong suggests raising both arms in front of you while slouching, and then again while standing straight—you’ll notice how much higher you can lift your arms.
The experts agree: Proper alignment will ease muscular tension, improving energy, efficiency and endurance for physical activity and exercise.
Your digestion relies on peristaltic movements, which push food through your intestines. “The capacity of the abdominal cavity is reduced with slouching,” says Cheong. “Plus, our organs are squished, so they won’t perform as well.” This slows digestion and could cause gastrointestinal issues, such as heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome. And a 2019 study from the University of South Florida shows that posture can even impact how you perceive the food you eat. That is, food tastes better when you’re comfortably sitting down.
Aches & Pains
Poor posture can contribute to tension-related headaches and possibly even eye strain due to increased muscle tension at the back of your neck.
Breathing & Brain Function
According to 2018 research, good posture benefits your breathing by giving the diaphragm more space to expand. “Better breathing increases your oxygen intake, which facilitates improved brain function, cognitive processes and muscle actions, because muscles require oxygen for energy,” adds Cheong.
In the same way slouching can slow down digestion, it can also affect circulation. Healthy blood flow depends on proper alignment and avoiding positions that cramp veins and arteries, like slouching or crossing your legs. So, how do you achieve good posture? Keep in mind, the spine has three natural curves: One hollow at the back of the neck, a rounding at the upper back and a curve at the lower back. Proper posture balances and supports these three curves, diminishing muscle tension and equalizing the distribution of weight. Building your core muscles and doing stretches can also help you hold yourself in better alignment. At right are some pointers to keep in mind when standing, sitting and walking.
Post this list on your computer screen or bathroom mirror to serve as a daily reminder for proper alignment.
- Head above your shoulders (think of keeping your earlobes in line with your shoulders) and your chin parallel to the floor.
- Top of your shoulders aligned with your hips.
- “Smell the cookies,” says Cheong, to encourage an expansion and lift in the chest (envision walking by a tray of freshly baked cookies).
- Gently brace your abdominal muscles to support your lower back curve.
- Keep your feet planted solidly on the floor and shoulder-width apart so your weight is distributed evenly. Ensure your toes make good contact with the ground (“Think of them as tree roots, helping to stabilize the tree [your body],” says Cheong).
- Head above your shoulders with your chin tucked (think
- of keeping your earlobes in line with your shoulders).
- Eyes focused straight ahead. Adjust your computer screen height to achieve this posture.
- Shoulders aligned with your hips. “Smell the cookies.”
- Bum should touch the back of your chair. If the chair seat is too deep, add some firm support.
- When resting, use a desk chair with lumbar support or add a lumbar support cushion or rolled-up towel.
- Adjust your seat height so that both feet are flat on the floor with your knees level to your hips.
- Take walking breaks around the house or office, and stand up and stretch out the muscles across the chest, shoulders and abdominals every 30 minutes or so.
- All of the above (standing) plus natural arm swings and defined heel strikes.
- Use the back leg to propel the body forward into a healthy stride.