Having good posture versus bad posture isn’t quite as simple as standing up straight as a drill sergeant.
But hunching over devices for hours while working from home or doom-scrolling isn’t great either (hello, “text neck”).
There’s no set definition for good posture or bad posture, says Chester Lin, P.T., M.P.T. “You want posture that minimizes excessive wear-and-tear and allows you to use your body to its best potential.”
Posture is essentially the way you hold up your body and relies on two main factors:
Differences in the way we’re built, lifestyle, and injuries can cause poor posture. However, there are exercises that can improve posture.
Here are some easy ways to correct your posture — and reasons to do it now.
How to Fix Bad Posture
1. Line your body up
“The ideal posture is your ears, shoulders, and hips in a vertical line from the side view, and your knees and ankles slightly behind the line,” says Lin.
2. Avoid text neck
Hours of peering down at your phone or tablet is making bad neck posture more common. This puts a major strain on your muscles.
Simple hack: Lift your device so it’s closer to eye level. That way, you’re not bending your neck down to look at the screen.
3. Sit on your “sit bones”
If you worked in an office pre-pandemic, you probably had access to ergonomic chairs and a desk set-up that was optimized for sitting (or standing) for an eight-hour day.
But when you’re working from home, it’s tempting to skip your not comfortable dining room table chair and head for the couch or a comfy chair to slouch down into while you work.
“An un-ideal back posture is sitting on the meaty part of your glutes rather than your sit bones with a rounded lower back,” says Dr. RJ Burr, D.C., Cert. M.D.T., C.S.C.S. “Back and neck posture go hand in hand.”
4. Make an effort — but don’t try too hard
“The simplest way toward general good posture is to sit or stand tall, proud chest, and relax your shoulders. Try not to hold any tension by attempting to have good posture,” says Burr.
Everyone’s body is different, so “good posture” on one person won’t necessarily look the same on someone else.
5. Strengthen key muscles
The most important muscles for posture are your calf muscles, glutes, and abdominal muscles, as well as your deep neck and deep back muscles, explains Lin.
6. Move more often
“Your best posture is your next posture — movement is medicine,” says Burr. “Sitting in a bad posture is not inherently bad, but sitting in a bad posture for hours accumulates physical stress and tension, which can be problematic over time.”
These five full-body stretches can help relieve the aches and pains from sitting at a desk all day.
7. Take microbreaks
“Getting up out of your chair at least once per hour for a simple postural reset,” recommends Burr. “A microbreak can be anything from simply standing up and reaching toward the ceiling or going for a brief walk.”
Set a timer on your phone or smartwatch to remind you to get up and take a break. Here are some ideas on what to do on your break.
8. Be mindful
“If you catch yourself slouching, then stop doing it by changing your position,” says Burr. “The problem is sustaining bad postures for long periods of time, such as sitting in front of a computer.”
If you’ve picked up some bad habits during COVID, here are some tips to break them and get back on track.
9. Support your lower back
“Lumbar support, or a lumbar roll, can help you maintain good seated posture without having to think about it,” says Burr.
If you’re the craft-y type, just roll a towel so it’s about four to six inches in diameter and 12 to 16 inches long, then put rubber bands on the end to keep it together.
Risks of Bad Posture
Increased chance of muscle, joint, or nerve pain
“The main concern associated with habitual bad posture is increased risk of muscle, joint, or nerve pain,” says Burr.
“The problem is if you often don’t know why you hurt if you continue to do the same things day in and day out,” he explains.
Dependency on Pain Killers
Not ideal posture can lead to pain, which can lead to seeking relief in painkillers.
Says Burr: “If you’re only masking the pain with medication, it may lead down a slippery slope of unnecessary drugs, tests, and procedures.”
“If you don’t use it, you lose it,” says Burr. “If you’re consistently sitting with a slouched, turtle shell-like appearance, your body’s tissues will quite literally adapt to the postural stress.”
Underlying Mental Health Issues
Posture can also reflect one’s emotional wellbeing. When you’re feeling down, you tend to slouch or curve inwards.
Studies have found upright posture can improve depressive symptoms.