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Want to look 10 years younger and 10 pounds lighter? Stand up straight. But good posture will do more than make you look good—it’s the backbone of good health.

Proper Posture

Proper posture should feel effortless rather than artificial. Many people mistakenly think they must throw their shoulders back and chest out to have good posture, but this position can feel artificial and uncomfortable—a sure sign that it’s not the body’s natural position.

The back need not be stiff and straight for proper posture. In fact, when we are in proper postural alignment, our back should have an “S” curve, consisting of natural curves in three areas of the spine: cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back), and lumbar (lower back). With proper posture, the head should rest directly over the shoulders in the body’s center of gravity so that you could draw a straight line from the ear through the shoulder to the hip to the ankle.

Posture Gone Wrong

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Young children provide a wonderful example of proper posture. Their backs show a natural “S” curve and their movement is unhindered and effortless. They haven’t had time to develop poor postural habits.

Over time, our posture can decline as a result of poor habits—namely slouching and inactivity that cause muscle tension and fatigue. The most common postural misalignment is a head that hangs forward. Your head is heavy, weighing anywhere from 10-14 pounds—when it hangs forward, it places unnatural strain on the neck muscles, which can cause a chain reaction in the body with drastic results.

Good posture feels effortless and places the least amount of strain on the body, which is why poor posture is often referred to as “fatigue posture.” Poor posture can lead to neck pain, back pain, headaches, digestive problems, rounded shoulders, spinal dysfunction, joint degeneration, and even a potbelly.

Improving Your Posture

The good news is that poor posture is often the result of bad habits and bad habits can be changed. All it takes is some conscious attention, commitment, and consistency. If you want to improve your posture, there are some simple steps you can take to start you on the path to spinal health.

  • Strengthen your core. Strong abdominal and back muscles can help you stand up straighter. Traditional core strength training programs can provide a strong foundation for a healthy back. In addition Pilates, yoga and vertical core strength exercises provide an excellent way to stay fit and maintain a strong core for a healthy spine.
  • Get moving. Sitting for long periods of time can encourage slouching—bad news for those of us who work at a desk all day. The best way to keep slouching to a minimum is to change positions frequently and keep the body in motion. Go for a walk or find small ways to fit movement into your day. Just get moving.
  • Set up a healthy workstation. If your job requires you to sit for long periods of time, set yourself up for success by creating a work environment that supports good posture.
  • Focus on your feet. If you’re addicted to high heels or flip-flops, you might be doing more to harm your posture. Our feet provide the foundation for our posture. Invest in quality shoes that provide comfort and support. Heels more than one inch in height will throw your natural posture out of alignment.
  • Stretch regularly. Stretching helps boost muscle flexibility. Perform regular stretching exercises and remember “the rule of opposites”—if you’ve been hunched over a computer for hours, it’s important to stretch your spine in the other direction.
  • Change it up. The body needs to move and adjust. Avoid standing, sitting, or lying in one position for long periods of time.
  • Balance. Avoid standing on one leg or with one hip thrust out to the side for long periods.
  • Cross over. If you must cross your legs, cross them at the ankle rather than the knee.
  • Don’t lock. Avoid locking out the knees, which throws the body into improper posture. Instead, keep a slight bend in the knees.
  • Focus. Pay attention to your posture. The only way to change it is by catching yourself regularly. Start to notice when you’re slouching. As soon as you feel the slouch coming on, make an adjustment. Before you know it, proper posture will be a good habit.