Did you know posture goes beyond the obvious? It’s easy to make the link between being hunched over a computer all day and strained shoulders, but not so easy to make the link between posture and other aspects of well-being, such as mental health.
With our increasingly sedentary lifestyles in the Western hemisphere, there has been a surge of interest in the issue of posture and how it affects well-being. Millions of us in the UK are hunched over a screen for eight hours plus each day. Even teens and kids spend more time than ever before using devices.
How does posture affect well-being?
Poor posture can affect your health in a surprising number of ways. As well as the obvious back, neck and joint pain associated with poor posture, there are some other less visible consequences, such as increased stress and low mood.
Research from San Francisco State University found that slouching increases feelings of depression. People with depression often droop their shoulders to mirror their mood. Research also shows that good posture can help ease symptoms of depression.
On good posture and well-being, research from the University of Auckland found that sitting up straight can be used as a coping mechanism against stress. This piece of research concluded that sitting in an upright position reduced negative mood and helped build resilience to stress.
A separate study at the University of Auckland found that a slouching posture also has a negative impact on learning. This has implications for student outcomes, as well as productivity in the workplace.
Poor posture can also be the cause of headaches, respiratory problems, fatigue, digestive problems, varicose veins and nerve compression problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Sitting in a slouched position compresses abdominal organs and can alter the natural alignment of the spine. This, in turn, can lead to the constriction of blood vessels, which has implications for cardiovascular health.
Buddhism, yoga, posture and well-being
The power for posture to shape well-being isn’t a new phenomenon. Buddhism and yogic traditions have long educated about the influence of posture on both the body and mind.
Posture in Buddhism is most commonly associated with the practice of meditation, but Buddhist scriptures speak frequently about four postures, namely walking, standing, sitting and lying down.
Yoga has been used therapeutically for centuries to achieve optimum health. Yoga is an incredibly powerful form of exercise when it comes to supporting health. Many yoga poses help to improve posture and overall well-being.
What exactly is ‘good’ posture
We often relate posture to the physical body, but if we reflect on eastern medical philosophies, posture is seen as much more than physical flesh and bones. Emotions, mental state and energy are all related to posture.
The key to good posture is in the position of your spine. Correct posture is when the body can stand, sit, walk and lie down with the least amount of strain on supporting muscles and ligaments. Good posture uses less energy and allows you to use your limbs more freely.
Given that we spend an awful lot of time sitting at desks, adopting the correct sitting position for good posture is paramount for well-being. I spoke with ergonomic chair expert, Nichola Adams from Corrigo Design about the importance of posture at work. She said the biggest problems in today’s modern working environment are:
- The quality of office chairs
- Workstation set up
- Taking regular breaks
Nichola has developed specialist ergonomic chairs for people with back problems. The chairs are highly adjustable, which Nichola explains is extremely important for optimum postural support. Chair adjustability is important because the best postural seating position differs from person to person.
How to improve posture for increased well-being
Poor sitting and standing habits can play havoc with your health. Slouching in a chair, standing with a flat back, sticking your bottom out, leaning on one leg, cradling your phone handset and sitting with your legs crossed can all place a strain on the soft tissue and muscles and interfere with the alignment of your spine.
Prolonged sitting is one of the biggest causes of poor posture. Combating this sedentary lifestyle is a real challenge for today’s workforce, with many people not taking any exercise outside of work either.
These are all common posture mistakes but are easily fixed by changing poor sitting and standing habits and by introducing some exercises to correct a slumping posture.
Taking regular breaks from sitting and investing in an ergonomic chair, as well as introducing exercise into your routine can have a really positive influence on posture and well-being. There are in fact many things you can do to improve posture and alignment, including:
- Be mindful of posture in everyday activities
- Stay active and take regular breaks from sitting
- Engage in an exercise routine that strengthens core muscles, such as pilates, yoga and tai chi.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Wear comfortable, supportive footwear
- Regular visits to a chiropractor or osteopath
- Relearn posture through the Alexander Technique
We are in danger of becoming a nation of habitual slouchers. The healthcare and lost productivity cost implications for the future are worrying. Parents, the education system, employers, and individuals must do more to understand the link between posture and well-being.