Posture is the positioning of the body when a person is sitting, standing, lying down, or performing different tasks. Researchers have linked bad posture with some uncomfortable health conditions and a high risk of injury, especially during exercise.
Having good posture is very important. Poor body positioning and alignment can cause various health problems, such as:
back and neck pain
Poor posture may be responsible for other conditions, as well. According to Harvard Health, researchers are investigating possible connections between bad posture and sleep disturbances, fatigue, and mood disorders.
Poor posture can be habitual, and it may also stem from poor muscle tone and low levels of strength and flexibility.
There are many ways to overcome habitual bad posture and build the right muscles.
Exercises and stretches
The most helpful exercises for improving posture affect the core — the back, buttocks, and abdomen.
Begin by lying flat on the back with the legs shoulder-width apart, the knees bent, and the heels as close to the buttocks as possible.
With the hands at the sides, lift the buttocks and lower back off of the floor. There should be a diagonal line from the knees to the hips and down to the shoulders.
Hold this position for a few seconds, then gently lower the hips to the floor. Repeat this exercise 8 to 10 times per session.
Lie on the stomach with the legs straight and the arms bent. Look down at the floor, keeping the neck straight and the hands on either side of the face.
Keeping the forearms flat on the floor and keeping the head and neck straight, gently use the arms to lift the upper body, while arching the back.
Hold this position for a few seconds, then gently lower the body to the starting position. Repeat this exercise 8 to 10 times per session.
Several variations of the plank exercise can help improve posture. Below is the basic plank, but a person may find different versions more or less effective.
Begin by lying on the stomach. Shift the position so that the weight of the body rests on the forearms and toes, with the rest of the body hovering above the floor. Some people prefer to have their arms outstretched and their hands, not their forearms, touching the floor.
Stay in this position for a few breaths, focusing on keeping the core and abdominal muscles tight, before lowering the body and releasing the position.
Hip flexor stretch
Stand with the legs together. Using the right foot, take a big step forward, keeping both the feet and knees pointing forward.
Gently bend the right knee and lunge forward, until there is a stretching feeling in front of the left hip.
Hold this position for a few seconds, then return to standing. Repeat the exercise, this time using the other foot to step forward.
Standing quad stretch
From a standing position, slowly bend the right knee and bring the right foot up behind the body.
Using the right hand, grab the right foot and pull it closer to the buttocks, until there is a stretching feeling in the hip and quadriceps — a group of muscles in the front of the thigh. Make sure that the knees stay close together.
Hold the stretch for a few seconds and release it, slowly lowering the foot to the floor. Repeat the exercise on the other side.
Stand straight, with the legs shoulder-width apart.
Using both hands, reach behind the body and interlace the fingers with the palms pointing upward.
Keeping the back and arms straight, gently pull back and down through the shoulders. Hold the position for a few seconds, then release it.
Other tips for improving posture
In addition to regular stretching, there are many ways to improve posture. These include:
Using a posture device: There are braces or shirts that gently pull back the shoulders to improve the way that the person sits and stands.
Staying active: Exercise can help build up the muscles necessary for maintaining good posture.
Being mindful of devices: Make sure that computer screens and keyboards are at a height that encourages healthful posture. Desk chairs and work surfaces should also be at an appropriate height.
Maintaining a healthy weight: Carrying extra weight can put extra stress on the muscles and pull the body out of alignment.
Getting enough support: Make sure that the buttocks, back, and thighs have enough support when sitting down. Use a small pillow behind the back if necessary, and ensure that the hips and thighs are parallel to the floor.
Using the imagination: When standing up, pretend that there is a string extending from the top of the head into the air. Imagine that someone is pulling on that string, keeping head up and the shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles in a straight alignment.