Tall girls (and boys) the world over have listened to their mothers spew these words for decades, if not centuries: sit up straight! For most of my youth and adolescence, I dutifully ignored my own mother’s dictum, for as a 5′ 4″ 10-year-old there was no way I’d trade my self-diminishing slouch for good posture. With age came more confidence and, as is true for many things, the realization that Mom was right. Posture is important, but why? And what does it involve, other than throwing your shoulders back and sticking out your chest?
Although it seems like it would come naturally, proper posture while sitting or standing requires work, physically and consciously. We humans are instinctively inclined to exert as little energy as possible, and holding yourself erect while waiting for a train or elevator, surfing the Internet at your desk, or watching your favorite TV show on the sofa requires more energy than letting yourself flop to one side. You may recall a flurry of studies published late last year that even proclaimed that our culture of sitting–and sitting poorly–will make you die sooner. I remember reading an article on said study while at the gym, horrified that even if I stayed on that elliptical for the rest of my life I’d not be able to make up the years lost from my 10-plus hour a day desk job and lifelong love of curling up with a good book.
But even if you do have to sit for long periods of time for work or a long commute, there’s a way to do so that will at least keep your spine happy. And a happy spine will have manifold benefits for you in the long term, including a decreased risk of arthritis, better muscle efficiency, reduced/prevented back pain, and a stronger core.
When you’re sitting, follow these steps:
-Align your spine against the back of your chair, weight even on each sitz bone, and with the natural curve of your low back maintained (you should be able to fit a small, rolled up towel behind your low back).
-Keep both feet even and flat on the floor, with your knees at 90-degree angles. If this means raising or lowering your chair, you can do so with a cushion. (I recommend the Tush Cush, which I swear was key to my finishing my senior thesis in college.) Don’t cross your legs (ladies, this means you!).
-If you rest your elbows on the chair’s arms, make sure that the chair will keep your forearms parallel to the floor.
-If you’re working at a computer, adjust your monitor so that the center of the screen is at eye level, an arm’s distance away, with the keyboard level with your forearms.
-Try to get up and walk around every 30 minutes, even if it’s for bathroom or water breaks.
-Sitting is a good choice when your brain needs to function at high levels, such as planning a project or during an interview or evaluation. The position will help you deal with stress more effectively.
If you have a choice to sit or stand, you should always choose the latter: standing burns more calories than sitting and encourages even better skeletal alignment and muscle engagement. But when you’re standing, similar rules to sitting apply:
-Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent (sounds a lot like yoga to me!)
-Keep your shoulders over your hips, belly in, and earlobes over shoulders. Basically, your body should be a flat vertical plane with your spine in a neutral S-curve.
-Shift your weight forward over the balls of your feet, rather than toward your heels.
-Let your arms hang naturally at your side.
-Try standing in unconventional situations, like talking on the phone or during a meeting. When you’re on your feet, you’ll be more present and be more motivated to work more efficiently.
Finally, if you get a lot of back pain from sleeping, try different firmness levels in mattresses. You can also try rolling a towel and putting it below your knees to support the arch of your back, or playing with different pillows. You probably don’t need as high a pillow as that!
Follow these easy steps and you’ll make your entire body–and your mother–proud!
Photo: Dave James via Flickr