Change your position: the benefits of good posture

"Sit up straight, don’t slouch, shoulders back". Correct posture is drilled into us from a very early age. Good posture is fundamental to exercise, fitness and a sense of wellbeing. Good posture helps you exercise safely by providing the optimal biomechanics for the best muscle performance. It also helps your performance by encouraging optimal organ and muscle function for maximum energy, endurance and vigour. Many sports and fitness activities require you to align yourself correctly to achieve good results.

Good posture not only improves physical performance it also boosts your emotional wellbeing. Have you noticed how if you are feeling down, simply sitting up straight and taking on a more open and positive posture improves your mood? Try this instant confidence booster next time you need an emotional pick me up. Stand in front of a mirror and straightened yourself up, pull in your stomach and open your chest by pushing it slightly forward and out while pulling your shoulders back. You’ll see a different more confident looking person. Adopt a positive form and the feelings will follow.

Posture is the ABC of body language and enables two-way communication between you and your mind, and also between you and everyone else. Walking tall (shoulders back, neck aligned with spine, eyes forward and back straight) oozes confidence.

As young children, we all start out with perfect posture, but it is easy to let it slide. The environment we operate in is a big culprit when it comes to contributing to bad posture. Let’s take gravity, the constant downward pressure on upright spines means that many of us develop odd body postures to compensate. Feeling pressured or sad about something?  Your posture will be the first telltale sign of this.

Over time, many people round their shoulders, stick bottoms out, flatten backs, lean on one leg, or generally just slouch. None of which is good for our spine or muscles, which have to work doubly hard to overcompensate. This leads to muscle and joint stress and often results in pain and stiffness.  So let’s correct this, and improve your posture whether it is good or bad.  After all, exercising without good posture is like a building without the appropriate structural reinforcements – good posture helps prevent injury and many common back complaints, helps us remaining active and keep moving, and improves our training performance.

The key to correcting your standing posture is correct spine alignment. Draw an imaginary line that aligns your earlobe over the middle of your shoulders and over your hip joint, as well as over a point roughly an inch in front of the ankle joint. Next position your body so that it lines up with the plumb line you just visualised. Your shoulders should be back and down, with the chin and chest slightly up, and the waist tucked slightly in, body relaxed. Whilst this may seem difficult at first, with practice it will become easier and more automatic. Until it does, periodically check your posture and correct it accordingly.

Prolonged sitting is another cause of poor posture. Usually when we sit, we pull the pelvis under (slouching backwards), which can lead to disc pressure and other back pain. Also because many people lack the main component of good posture – core strength – we are also inclined to slouch over desks rather than remain upright.

Today the vast majority of people are desk jockeys, spending upwards of eight hours a day sitting at a desk in the same spot. Worse still, instead of compensating by being extremely active once they leave work, they simply spend more hours sitting, slouched in front of the TV, or sitting in a bar or restaurant.

Combatting this sedentary lifestyle is a challenge – people now spend more than one-third of their waking hours work, while at the same time tasks that require moderate physical activity have dropped from 48% to 20% in the last 50 years[1].  It’s time to change this lifestyle to reduce the associated risks of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases.

Given how much time the average person spends sitting down, wouldn’t it be great if you were able to utilise that time to improve your posture as well as your fitness? Enter the concept of Active Sitting. Active Sitting means using an unstable seating surface, i.e. one that wobbles, which requires you to engage your trunk muscles in more movement to maintain an upright sitting posture.

The constant engagement of your core muscles during active sitting has been shown to

  • Increase burning of fat tissue
  • Reduce pressure on the vertebrae
  • Strengthen your core by encouraging contraction of deep core muscles
  • Improve posture by increasing control and awareness of your body position
  • Fostering better spinal positioning during sitting

Equipment such as Technogym’s Wellness Ball works your muscles without you even realising. Active Sitting, which is experiencing a rise in popularity as the health and well-being benefits of active sitting become more widely known, cause multiple involuntary micro-movements simply be sitting on the ball at your desk.  In doing so, the first steps to defeating this sedentary lifestyle are being taken – posture will be improved, back and core muscles become stronger, back pain is prevented, and your mental and physical wellbeing are enhanced.

As basic as it may seem the fastest way to improve your health, fitness and general well-being is by paying attention to your posture. So…as always, sit up straight, don’t slouch, shoulders back…who knew sitting could be so much fun?!

[1] OECD. Average annual working time. Employment and labour markets: key tables from OECD, No. 8, 2012.