If your mom was always on you to "stand up straight!" you probably had enough of the good posture lectures when you were younger. As usual, Mom was right and only had your best interest at heart. There's more to good posture than balancing a book on your head. Exercises that improve your posture and straighten your back also improve your health and eliminate pain.
Everything Is Connected
You never realize it but there are a million little things you do every day that seem second nature to you but that are working against your posture. Everything in your body is connected and when you do something seemingly inconsequential you are actually setting off a chain reaction that results in bad posture and some back and neck pain, too. For instance, when you wedge the phone receiver in between your right shoulder and ear you get muscle tightness in your right shoulder and arm from the misalignment in your neck. That's not the end of the story, though. Your right arm balances your left leg, so tension and pain in your right arm can affect how you walk, which can in turn affect the alignment of your lower back, which adds back pain to the stiff neck you already have.
There are many exercises you can do to promote good posture. Movements that encourage ab strength and lengthening the torso and back are effective for building strength and flexibility necessary for good posture. Do fewer of the exercises that push your head and chest forward, like bench presses and flyes. Planks and reverse flyes are positive exercises that will pull your shoulders back into alignment and stretch out your chest muscles and the planks will work on your core, too. Hip flexor exercises like lying and standing leg raises are useful to encourage proper posture while walking. And keep those yoga or Pilates classes on your schedule. Both are effective practices for improving flexibility and strength vital for good posture.
So by exercising to improve your posture you can eliminate joint and muscle pain, but there's so much more to the benefits of good posture. Good posture opens your chest and makes breathing easier, bringing extra oxygen into your body, allowing you to concentrate while at the same time increasing energy. With good posture your midsection will be relaxed yet open, promoting better digestion. You'll look thinner, too, when you're standing straight plus the alignment in your neck, shoulders and back will keep pain in those areas out of the picture.
Tips On Maintaining Good Posture
There are habits off the exercise mat that will help maintain good posture. Once you get in the practice of noticing your posture it will be easier to maintain it. Set your watch or a timer to remind you to check on your posture hourly or every hour and a half. If you're in alignment, that's great, make a mental note to keep it that way. If you have to make an adjustment, that's okay too. Realign yourself so that your ears, shoulders, hips and knees (if you're not sitting) are lined up and then hold your good posture for as long as you remain aware of it. Your timer will go off in another hour to remind you to check again. You can also use cervical and lumbar pillows when you sleep and sit to maintain good posture when not standing. If you work at a desk, on a computer or at a job that encourages irregular posture, take regular breaks and stretch your arms above your head and behind your back, as well as bending at the waist to stretch out your legs. Do what you can to keep your muscles loose and your body aligned and soon good posture will be second nature.
- IDEA Health and Fitness Association: Corrective Exercises: Swayback Posture
- ShapeFit.com: Back Problems - Avoiding the Hunchback With Back Training Exercises
- Vegan Times: Perfect Posture
- Physical Activity Instruction Of Older Adults: C. Jessie Jones and Debra J. Rose
- Parkinson's Disease: edited by Manuchair Ebadi, and Ronald F. Pfeiffer
- ExRx.net: Hip Exercises
- IDEAL Healtn and Fitness Association: Tricks of the Trade
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images