Perfect Posture Helps You Put Your Best Foot Forward
Paying attention to how you stand, how you sit and even how you position yourself in front of a computer will help you look great and may even prevent certain physical ailments.
Stand up straight! Your mother was right when she used to give you this unsolicited advice, because good posture is crucial to your health and well-being.
"As a general rule, maintaining proper posture is not just good for the muscles and bones, but for your breathing,” said Shaheda Quraishi, MD, attending physiatrist at Northwell Health’s Cushing Neuroscience Institute in Manhasset, New York “You can’t take good, deep breaths when you are hunched over. It’s important to your overall health to be able to breathe properly.”
Poor posture also can contribute to aching necks and backs, she says, so it really is crucial that you learn (and practice) good posture. Additionally, posture plays a key role in the development of pain and is important in pain management.1 Among the functions that can be most easily influenced by posture are headache, spinal pain, lung capacity, pulse, and blood pressure. 2
Start improving your posture by standing tall, with your shoulders square, your legs shoulder-length apart, and your back straight. Make sure you’re not slouching. The biggest posture mistake you can make is to let your shoulders slump, Dr. Quraishi warned. “Keep them straight whether you are standing up or sitting,” she advised.
When you sit, be sure your body is straight, not slouched, says Fredrick Wilson, DO, of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “Most people don’t do this, but you should sit with your head straight, looking forward, and your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle,” he said. If you feel more comfortable with something to stabilize your lower back, place a small rolled-up towel at the back of your chair right at your lower back. “This not only helps your back feel better, but it serves as a reminder to keep your back extended,” Dr. Wilson said.
Stand more than you sit. “People who stand and move more have less back pain,” said Sayed Emal Wahezi, MD, Fellowship Program Director of the Multidisciplinary Pain Program at Montefiore Health System in New York City. “This is because when you stand, you are exercising the anti-gravity muscles in your back but when you sit, you don’t use these muscles and so your body figures you don’t really need them and the muscles become smaller and weaker,” he said.
Standing and sitting are better than just doing one or the other, said Dr. Wilson. “Sitting at a computer all day isn’t good, but neither is standing all day because you tend to start slouching,” he said. “If you sit all day at a desk, get up every so often and take a break. Do some stretches and move around.”
And if you sit at a desk all day, be aware of your position. Your elbows should be flexed at about 90 degrees, Dr. Quraishi said. Ideally, there will be arms on the chair that makes it’s easy to keep your elbows properly bent. Your back should be straight (again, no slouching please!) and your computer should be directly at eye level. “If it’s not, and you have to keep straining to look up or down, or to the left or right, it puts stress on your neck and shoulders,” Dr. Quraishi said.
If you've heard that standing desks are good for you, keep in mind that these are not necessarily for everyone. If you have back pain that is related to a disc problem, standing up for long periods may be helpful, she said. Otherwise, standing all day isn't necessarily recommended, Dr. Quraishi said.
As for exercise balls, these are great for doing stretching exercises but not for sitting on all day at the office, Dr. Quraishi added. “It’s not that I don't recommend exercise balls,” she said. “There’s really no role for them in helping maintain good posture in the workplace. But exercise balls can help with strengthening the back and core muscles, which can certainly help with maintaining proper posture.”
Comfortable footwear, on the other hand, is important to good posture, Dr. Quraishi said. Ideally, your shoes will be wide enough to comfortably fit, with some arch support and soles that offer shock absorption. A low-heeled shoe is preferable over a high heel or a completely flat shoe. “Flat shoes don't offer any support,” Dr. Quraishi said.
In addition, strengthening your core by doing exercises for your stomach and back will make it easier to have good posture, she explained. “If your stomach and back are strong, then good posture doesn’t seem like work.”