Having your mom tell you to sit up straighter at the dinner table when you were a kid was just as annoying as her telling you to finish your broccoli. Even if you don't like to admit it, though, moms are sometimes right about things. Hate to break it to you, but she was definitely right about one thing: your posture is a small thing that can make a huge difference for your overall health.
"It’s important to think about good posture from a young age for a number of reasons. Health being the most important," Susan M. Day, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and clinical instructor at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, tells Bustle. There's a lot more at stake here than looking taller in those skinny jeans without having to wear stilettos — posture is about much more than aesthetics. Posture could affect your lung capacity, the condition of your joints and ligaments, and even the level of hormones in your system. Those may sound like wild claims to you, but there's research to back it all up, as you'll see below.
Millennials should especially worry about posture, because of our constant use of electronics. Eight-four percent of the young adults who report lower back pain in the UK are experiencing daily aches because of how often they're hunched over their phones and tablets. It's just further proof that posture could either be an ally or enemy. There's no reason for you to wait any longer to uncross your legs and sit up straighter at your desk.
Here are seven reasons your posture matters.
1. Posture Can Make Or Break The Health Of Your Tendons & Joints In The Long Run
If you don't have your body weight distributed evenly, which is precisely what happens when you're slumping, you're putting unwanted pressure on your tendons and joints, which aren't designed to take on that extra work. Over time, all that wear and tear will build up and result in chronic aches and pain, or something much more serious.
"Poor posture can lead to the tendons being maintained in a shortened position, resulting in tendonitis (inflammation), which can ultimately lead to pain and injury," Dr. Day says. Tendonitis causes tenderness and severely limits your range of motion, and it only gets worse as you get older. Pay attention to your upper body to prevent this. Dr. Day recommends your ears be directly over your shoulders, and the shoulders to sit in line with your hips. This should prevent you from collapsing into the joints. After a little practice, this position will feel like second nature.
2. Bad Posture Can Increase Your Risk For Heart Disease
Heart disease is the number one killer of women all over the world, so you don't want to hold onto any habits that would increase your likelihood for contracting cardiovascular disease. How you stand and sit affects the positioning of your spine and rib cage, the space your heart dominates. If this part of your body is in a compromising position, it hinders your vital organ from working properly.
In 2007, a study in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that the strain on your neck muscles that comes from slouching has a direct effect on your blood pressure and the overall blood flow to your heart. Additionally, a constantly leaning forward position could lead to an aortic diastolic murmur, which is a potentially deadly irregular beating of the heart.
3. Posture Affects Your Lung Capacity
Lungs can't do their job properly if you're constantly crouched over, robbing them of space. Bad posture can reduce your lung capacity up to 30 percent, which results in shortness of breath, foggy brain, and and less energy to get through your day. Roll your shoulders away from your ears and down your back, which will help your chest open up and give your lungs plenty of room to breathe for you.
4. Good Posture Makes You More Confident
"How we carry ourselves has been shown to have an effect on hormones," Dr. Day says. "Holding ourselves in a position of power has been shown to increase testosterone and decrease cortisol. The opposite is true for weak postures." The research done by Harvard's Dr. Amy Cuddy proved that when you strike a powerful pose, you really can change the chemical makeup in your body for the better. You lower your levels of stress and become optimistic about your own future. You instantly feel more confident, making the people around you sense your self-esteem boost.
Striking a power pose can be as simple as placing yourself in good posture. Keep your head up, shoulders back, chin parallel to the floor, and leave your arms down by your side. Look people right in the eye and distribute the weight evenly on your feet.
5. Bad Posture Increases Your Risk For Future Injury
The older you get, the more damage minor falls can cause, especially if your body isn't prepared to bounce back. Dr. Day says, "Poor posture can lead to a weak core which can ultimately lead to a loss of balance and coordination, and over time lead to falling, which can result in injury." Imagine having an accident down the road that prevents you from being able to walk around normally. Doesn't sound pleasant, does it? You can prevent that by sitting up straighter this very moment.
Because of all the hours we spend at a desk, Dr. Day urges us to examine how we sit. Our feet should be flat on the floor, and our knees and elbows at a 90 degree angle. If your chair doesn't provide enough lower back support, Dr. Day suggests rolling up a towel and placing it on your lumbar spine.
6. Posture Can Affect Your Overall Fitness
"It’s silly that people work out in the gym for hours on end and then slouch around all day," Dr. Day tells Bustle. In other words, you can do all the exercise routines in the world, but if you don't pay attention to your posture before and after, you're damaging your own muscles and sabotaging any chance you have for getting stronger and fitter.
When you're slouched over your computer for an extended period of time, you invite in muscle imbalances, particularly in the chest area, because your shoulders cave inward. Even the strength of your biceps and rotator cuff muscles could become compromised when you're not sitting with the proper 90 degree angles at your elbows. The worst-case scenario is that these misalignments eventually lead to tendonitis. However, another more short-term consequence is that you lose the ability to move around freely, especially at the gym. Not only does the quality of your workout suffer, but you'll likely enjoy physical activity a lot less.
7. Bad Posture Could Give You Lasting Spine Problems
Take it from someone with scoliosis: Having chronic back problems totally sucks. It affects pretty much every avenue of your life and prevents you from doing all the things people with normal spines are able to do effortlessly. Dr. Day warns us about the link between bad posture and spine problems such as Dowager's hump, which is a forward curvature of the thoracic spine. Dowager's hump is caused by years of unattended slouching, and these habits start at a young age. It's not too late to correct yourself now, though, and reduce your risk for contracting it in the future.
The more time you spent hunched over, unaware of the positioning of your spine and neck, the easier it will be for you to be diagnosed with a spinal issue like Dowager's hump — and there is no amount of yoga and acupuncture that can completely reverse it. Make the littlest daily adjustments. Lengthen your spine to the ceiling. Make sure everything is in alignment. It only takes a few seconds to correct your posture, a small fraction of time that pays off in huge ways.
Want more women's health coverage? Check out Bustle's new podcast, Honestly Though, which tackles all the questions you're afraid to ask.
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