It’s one of those phrases most of us heard throughout childhood: “Stand up straight!” Good posture makes us look taller and more confident, but what else does it do for us health-wise? Turns out, quite a lot.
Most of us are born with good posture, says Toshie Okabe, a Toronto-based ballet dancer turned posture teacher, but we gradually lose it as we spend more and more time sitting behind a desk and staring at a screen. Okabe teaches a technique called Mitzvah, which was developed to help people return to their optimal posture, largely by helping them find more fluid ways of sitting, standing and walking. Optimal posture, say experts, translates to a better life — better sleep, better moods, and even a better time with aging. Here are some of the core benefits.
Fewer aches and pains
“When optimal posture is restored, many of our modern-day complaints like a sore back and a tight neck, hips and shoulders can be alleviated,” says Susan Massitti, a physiotherapist and Pilates instructor based in Canmore, Alta. This is because proper posture allows you to move better, which then allows your joints to be properly lubricated, reducing pain and inflammation-causing friction.
“You’re not going to have good posture if you’re sitting nine hours,” says Massitti, who characterizes prolonged sitting as a “disease.” We’re designed to move, she says, and when we don’t, our bodies become weaker and more rigid. The simplest way to improve our posture is to take frequent movement breaks. Massitti also recommends a standing desk. If you do use a desk chair, Okabe recommends one with a supported, slightly angled back, and a flat, hard seat. “If the chair is firm, you move more,” she says.
For some people, the right posture can also reduce headache frequency. “If our head is supported and aligned, it prevents a head-forward posture which may cause headaches,” says Massitti, referring to the head-jutted-out position that many of us have when staring at a screen.What You Need To Know Before Dropping Dairy From Your Diet
“We take over 20,000 breaths a day,” says Massitti. “If we don’t have good alignment or if we’re sitting all rounded over, it will definitely affect the rib cage and how we’re breathing.”
Having poor posture can cause us to take shallower breaths that originate in our upper chests instead of the preferred method of engaging our diaphragm to breathe into our bellies. But when we maintain proper posture, “There’s more space in our chests,” says Massitti, which allows us to take deeper, better quality breaths that allow us to take in more oxygen.
Once they’ve mastered their ideal posture, “Most people will see sleep quality improve dramatically,” says Okabe. She explains that this is because bad posture leads to tight, tense muscles that can seize up while you sleep. “That affects the quality of your sleep because your muscles are actually working hard and stimulating the brain.” But once you’ve retrained your body into its proper posture, those muscles can finally relax, allowing you to get that desired deep sleep.Everything You Need To Know About Vitamin D
More energy and improved mental heath
“We tend to think a certain way with a certain posture,” says Okabe. She explains that while her “re-education” of how people should stand, sit and move is purely physical, it does impact how her clients feel.
“When people are depressed, their chests are caved in, and their muscles are tight,” she says. She’s found that improving someone’s posture decreases the tension in the body, leading to less stress and improved mental health. “Nobody is crying when their chest is open,” she adds.
Less risk as you age
While bad posture can negatively impact our lives as early as our teens, it saves its worst for when we’re old. Muscle loss, stiff joints and balance problems are common — and potentially dangerous — aspects of aging. Good posture can help ameliorate these problems, says Okabe, as they are all related to the body’s alignment and how we move. It may even help to lessen our risk of falling, and make it easier to recover if we do take a tumble.
Massitti recommends that people seek professional help, “any time they’re having discomfort.” Seeing a physiotherapist or chiropractor will likely involve exercises and working on new habits while breaking old ones. But the positive results that good posture will bring into your life are well worth the effort.