We all do it — hunch over our phones, or slump over our desks at work. It really is the most comfortable way to sit, even though we all know how bad it is for our backs. But beyond our poor, sagging spines, bad posture can also negatively affect our health in a bunch of (rather scary) ways.
According to an article by Andrea Atkins on HuffingtonPost.com, weak posture can cause breathing issues, joint pain, and even difficulty walking. This has to do with a misaligned spine, and how it affects the chest, bones, and joints.
And, as it turns out, bad posture can also affect your mood. As Mandy Oaklander noted on Time.com, "Researchers studied what effect slumped or straightened posture had on the hearts and minds of 74 people in New Zealand, who were strapped into their assigned postures with tape. The upright participants reported feeling more enthusiastic, excited, and strong, while the slumped participants reported feeling more fearful, hostile, nervous, quiet, still, passive, dull, sleepy, and sluggish ... Good posture was also associated with higher self-esteem, less social fear and fewer negative emotions."
So if you're worried about hurting your back, or just need a little self-esteem boost, then you may be interested in some ways to stop all that slouching. Here are some easy ways to straighten up throughout the day.
1. Be Conscious Of How You Stand
So you're waiting in line for movie tickets, an extra hot triple latte, your turn at the salsa and chips bar —whatever it may be — and you're feeling extra bored. The line is taking forever, and with each passing moment your shoulders are becoming more an more hunched. You then rest your hands in your pockets, tilt your head back, and before long you've begun to resemble a slouchy, 80s teen.
As Vikram Kinkar noted on Lifehacker.com, "A lot of people have the habit of keeping their hands in pocket while standing. Gradually this leads to slouching shoulders, since while standing the proper way to maintain a good posture is to keep the hands by the side of the body."
You'll also want to stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and your shoulders back. To get an idea of how well you're doing, trying standing against a wall. "For most people everything except the head would touch the wall. This means you have a scope of improvement there. Try and inculcate the habit of standing with your shoulders upright, which would help the head line up with the spinal cord," Kinkar suggested.
2. Don't Hold Your Phone With Your Shoulder
Everyone has balanced their phone on their shoulder while chatting, perhaps while typing or chopping up food. But however natural it may feel, this move is actually really hard on your neck and shoulders. In an effort to look for a different way to multi-task, might I suggest a nifty headset, so you can truly be hands-free? Or, how about just holding the phone properly. According to an article on RealSimple.com, when holding the phone up to your ear, keep your shoulders down and your head and neck straight — not tilted to one side or the other. It may not feel as natural, but your spine will thank you.
3. Build Up Your Back Muscles
One reason we all hunch and slouch is because our shoulder and back muscles are weak. That's why super fit people, like ballet dancers and gymnasts, all seem to have the posture of the gods.
You don't have to be Olympic-ready to have a straight back, but you will need to do a few exercises to sort things out. According to Ben Greenfield on HuffingtonPost.com, "Do stretches and movements that open and lengthen the muscles in the front of your body, such as your chest, forearms and biceps and the big muscles that are at the front and sides of the hips. Try reaching for the sky while lunging."
You can also try exercises that build up the back of your body, such as rowing or pulling motions that require you to pull your shoulder blades down, Greenfield suggested. This will lead to a stronger back, and an easier time standing up straight.
4. Uncross Your Legs While At Work
It may feel natural to sit at your desk with legs crossed, but sitting this way makes the pelvis roll forward, which unstacks the spine and causes pressure on the lower back. "The correct way to sit in a chair requires you to place your feet flat on the ground. That means no crossing your legs or sticking them out in front of you. If making your feet completely flat is uncomfortable, prop your feet on something," according to Yohana Desta on Mashable.com.
5. Align Everything Properly At Your Desk
Many of us spend a helluva a lot of time at our desks, which means we have all the time in the world to mess up our posture. So why not go ahead and properly set up your workspace, according to ergonomics?
First, you'll want your monitor at eye level. "Looking down at your screen puts excess strain on your neck, which leaves you vulnerable to injuries such as cervical disc herniation, cervical strains, and headaches, " noted Hannah Newman on Greatist.com. Next, keep everything you use often within arm's reach, so you aren't forcing the body to overwork. Also, be sure to support your lower back using a pillow, or your jacket, Newman suggested, to prevent strains and sprains. And finally, make sure your arms can rest in a comfortable, 90-degree angle so there's no risk of shoulder injury.
6. Sit Up Straight While Driving
Oh yes, the old slouch and drive — popular amongst commuters, teens, and cool people everywhere. But despite how comfy it can feel to kick back while driving, it actually does a huge disservice to your posture.
As James McCarron noted on LiveStrong.com, "Sitting in a car for long periods of time can aggravate back and hip problems, or create new ones." So sit up straight, support your lower back with a towel or pillow, remove anything from your back pockets to ensure you're sitting level, and make sure your seat is properly adjusted, McCarron suggested. That way, when you finally get where you're going, you won't feel like a twisted up pretzel.
7. Don't Weigh Yourself Down With A Giant Backpack
It's temping to shove your whole life into a backpack, sling it over your shoulder, and go marching out the door. But, as Greenfield noted, "These posture killers can be particularly stressful, especially those worn always over the same shoulder." Make sure you don't weigh yourself down too often, or at least wear the backpack properly (AKA, on both shoulders).
8. Get A Firmer Mattress
Why is it that everything that feels comfortable is bad for the back? Unfortunately, this goes for your big, fluffy mattresses, too. For better posture, you'll want to skip out on the type of bed you can sink into for days, and instead look for a firmer version. According to Kinkar, "Using a relatively firm mattress is a good idea, since it provides a better support to the body while sleeping." And as someone who has a very squishy bed, I can personally attest to this. Whenever I stay with a friend who happens to have a firmer bed, I notice that I wake up feeling ten years younger. Definitely worth it.
9. Shake It Out Several Times A Day
Everyone knows how bad it is to sit in the same position all day. So get up, move around, and work out all the kinks. You can also do some shoulder rolls to help relieve any back tensions. According to RealSimple.com, "Stand or sit in a comfortable position. As you inhale, raise your shoulders and shoulder blades to your ears. On the exhale, pull your shoulder blades down and together. Repeat 5 to 10 times." That should do the trick.
10. Check Yourself Throughout The Day
Admit it — when you walk by a mirror or a shiny window, you totally give yourself an up-and-down to check your hair and outfit. The next time you do this, take a look at your posture, too. Are your shoulders back? If not, try to remind yourself to straighten up a bit more. Little reminders like this, throughout the day, can turn better posture into a habit.
Don't spend your days slouching and hunching. Make sure to stand up, put your shoulders back, and work on that posture of yours. Your back will greatly appreciate it.
Images: RZCREATIVE/Stocksy; Giphy (10)