Now that we’re more than a month into the New Year, most of us have either broken or modified our resolutions. For those of you who haven’t — congratulations!
Yet among all the good things that we vow to change or work on each year, posture never seems to make the cut. But what if I told you that maintaining good posture could help facilitate better breathing, improve your self-image, avoid health complications, and promote healthier bones? Here are seven steps to helping you maintain better posture:
First let’s get a better understanding of what good posture is. Good posture does not mean keeping your spine totally straight. By constantly tightening up your back muscles you may strain your back and do as much harm as you would by slouching. A good posture means maintaining the three curves of your back: the concave curve from the base of your head to your shoulders, the convex curve from your shoulders to the bottom of your rib cage and the concave curve from the bottom of your rib cage to the base of your spine. When you are in the right posture it should feel almost effortless to maintain the position.
Pretend there is a string pulling you up at top of your spine. This keeps your ears lined up with your shoulders, your shoulders lined up with your hips, and your hips lined up with your ankles. Focus on keeping your spine and head aligned with the “string” while relaxing the rest of your body.
Set a reminder to check in on your posture. Many of us have great intentions to maintain a good posture, but after 5-10 minutes we forget, get distracted by something else, and fall back into our old habits. A reminder could be anything from a post-it note on your computer to an alarm that goes off on your phone. With enough reminders good posture will become part of your regular routine in no time!
Eliminate bad habits that promote unhealthy postures. This includes standing or leaning on one leg, lying down while watching T.V. or reading a book, and letting your neck and shoulders fall forward while texting or writing a quick email on our phones. Other examples include slouching in the car while driving, sleeping on your stomach and carrying too much in your bag or briefcases. Spend some time thinking about your day and what habits you can change in order to help promote better posture.
This is my favorite; get a neck, shoulder, and back massage. If you have had bad posture for a while it can be hard to change your posture because of tightness in your muscles. This may make it more difficult to maintain a good posture and deter you from working on this important lifestyle change.
Make sure your exercise routine includes exercises that strengthen your back. This includes Pilates, yoga, core exercises and stretching. You want to make sure that you are using the right technique when exercising so that you don’t end up hurting your back.
Get a professional assessment. If you have had bad posture for as long as you can remember, or a history of back or neck pain/injuries, it would be a good idea to visit with your doctor or physical therapist for a professional assessment. She or he can advise you on how to better care for your back and keep it healthy.
Anna Ribaudo is a doctor of physical therapy at the Integrative Care Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. She completed her doctorate degrees at New York Institute of Technology in 2003 and recently completed an orthopedic residency at Hospital for Special Surgery.