How’s your posture? For most people, the answer is not so good. Take a close look at the people you see over the course of a day. You’ll discover that many have poor body alignment when they stand and sit – and that’s hard on your spine and bode well for joint health as well. Your posture has more of an impact on how you look and feel than you might imagine. Here are some surprising ways your posture can impact your health, mental outlook, and how you train.
It Impacts Your Mood
Can how you sit or stand impact your mood? In a study carried out by researchers at San Francisco State University asked subjects to walk down the hall in one of two ways – with a slouched posture or with good posture and a skip to their step. The subjects that walked with poor posture felt mildly depressed and zapped of energy, in contrast to the group that skipped down the hall with their body tall and proud.
Even more powerful is a Harvard study. It found that people who practiced good posture – sitting and standing straight up with shoulders held wide- experienced hormonal changes, including a 25% drop in the stress hormone cortisol and a 20% increase in testosterone. Cortisol works against your efforts to stay lean by redistributing body fat to your tummy and increasing the breakdown of lean body mass. A bump up in testosterone, being an anabolic hormone, can also give your weight training a boost by helping you shed fat and build lean body mass. Strangely enough, having good posture could indirectly help you get stronger and leaner.
Bad Posture Can Cause Orthopedic and Joint Problems
When your posture is off balance, your spine isn’t in proper alignment. This creates muscle imbalances that can trigger back and neck pain. In turn, back and neck pain can negatively affect your training. Think about it. How well can you train when your back or neck hurts? Plus, poor alignment redistributes the weight your joints bear, so that some joints are under more stress. Over time, this can damage the connective tissue that makes up the joint. Poor posture is also associated with degeneration of joint cartilage, what we call osteoarthritis. The added stress you place on your joints from years of bad alignment eventually causes loss of joint cartilage. If you already have osteoarthritis, poor posture can make the symptoms worse. So, poor posture is harmful to your spine and your joints.
It Changes Your Breathing
When you sit in a slumped position, it’s harder for your lungs to fill with air because a hunched over position constricts the diaphragm, the muscle involved in breathing in and breathing out. Try it! Slump over in your chair and see if it isn’t harder for you to take a deep breath. In a slumped position, your breaths become more shallow and you’re forced to breathe faster to take in enough oxygen. In turn, this alters the pH of your blood and can trigger anxiety. In fact, counselors tell anxious, stressed out clients to breathe slowly and deeply to alleviate tension and anxiety. The only way you can do that is to sit upright with good posture so your lungs can fill with air. Shallow breathing also increases the work of breathing. If you do it all day, it might partially explain why you’re zapped of energy after work. You’re working harder to breathe!
Poor Posture Impacts Digestion
Poor posture and sitting slumped over also interferes with digestion. As discussed, slouching in a chair constricts the movement of the diaphragm, the inspiratory and expiratory muscle, whereas good posture gives your diaphragm more “breathing space.” Studies suggest that people who feel bloated and have copious gas after a meal have a diaphragm that after eating is contracted when the normal response Is for the diaphragm to relax. When it doesn’t relax, the stomach has less space to expand and this can lead to indigestion, bloating, and a gaseousness. In fact, a small study published in the journal Gut found expulsion of gas is enhanced in the upright position as opposed to a supine one. Poor posture also reduces circulation to the digestive organs after a meal and that means less efficient digestion of food.
Worse Cognitive Function?
A study in the elderly showed that posture can even impact cognitive function. Older people tend to shift their head and neck forward of their torso when they sit, stand, and walk. A study showed that this posture in a healthy older population was linked with decreased cognitive function. Plus, another study found that forward protruding head and neck posture decreases proprioceptive function, the awareness of where you are in space. If that’s the case, it could increase the risk of falling.
How Can You Improve Your Posture?
Improving your posture means being aware of how you sit and stand. When you stand or sit, your shoulders shouldn’t slump forward but should be pulled back in a relaxed position. Your core and abdomen should be flat and firm. When you stand, your arms should fall naturally at your sides and your weight should be evenly distributed between your two feet. When you sit, both feet should be on the floor – no leg crossing.
Also, get up, walk around, and stretch at least every 30 minutes if you sit at work. Prolonged sitting is harmful to your health in many ways. Don’t stay glued to your chair!
The Bottom Line
Good body alignment and posture helps preserve your spine and joints and it helps organs, like your digestive tract and lungs, function better. So, pay more attention to how you’re standing and sitting. It matters more than you think.
Prevention.com. “7 Weird Ways Your Posture Messes with You”
Live Science. “Sit Up Straight! How Good Posture Benefits Your Health”
Ortop Traumatol Rehabil. 2014 May-Jun;16(3):351-60.
Gut. 2003 Jul; 52(7): 971–974.
Journal of Physiological Anthropology. (1) p. 45-50 (2002)
Cohen, R. et al. (2016) Mobility and Upright Posture Are Associated with Different Aspects of Cognition in Older Adults. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience 8(257)
American Posture Institute.