What single change could boost your mood, make you look thinner and feel more confident, and help you get a promotion? The answer is surprisingly attainable: improving your posture.
A strong posture signals confidence to those around you. At work this translates into what business coaches call “leadership potential.” In fact, a 2012 article in Forbes magazine listed posture as the second most important leadership signifier in a corporate environment.
No matter what your job title, when you stand or sit up straight, you look like you know what you’re doing. When you slump, the opposite is true. Your body is sending a nonverbal message that says, “I don’t want to be here.” Which is not the kind of attitude that wins points with your boss, customers, or anyone else you want to impress.
There’s another reason strong posture makes a good impression. When you stand up tall, head up and shoulders back, your body looks better both in person and in pictures. In other words, good posture is sexy! Slumping adds inches to your waist and can make your chest look sunken—not the silhouette to which most of us aspire. No matter what your shape or size, good posture makes you look stronger and healthier—and it’s always in style.
Benefits of Good Posture
Stand tall and you might feel better too. Research suggests posture can affect not just how other people see you, but how you see yourself. Sitting up straight appears to prompt positive feelings and a better mood, much like rose-colored glasses for your brain. In a study published in Health Psychology, subjects were assigned to either a sitting straight position or a slumped position and their thoughts and feelings recorded. The good posture group were much more likely to report better self-esteem, less social fear, and more positive emotions. These results suggest that sitting up straight might be an excellent strategy for coping with everyday stress.
The health benefits of good posture aren’t all in your head, either: as your posture improves, so does your ability to prevent pain and injuries. Back pain, the most common reason for missing work, can be avoided by correcting your posture. And if you suffer from tension headaches, good posture could also keep you headache-free. According to the American Chiropractic Association, good posture keeps you feeling good by:
- Preventing muscle strain
- Reducing risk of injury
- Keeping bones and joints healthy (and pain-free)
What exactly is good posture? Well, it starts with keeping your shoulders back and your core muscles engaged. For visual cues on posture, the Mayo Clinic website has a slide show on what good posture should look like.
How to Stand Tall
Sarah Dible, a physical therapist at Rejuvenance Therapy in Vancouver, WA, says: “When you’re in your best posture your lungs work with more ease, your heart pumps more efficiently, and your joints are under less stress. Correcting your posture even momentarily is like giving your body a mini tune-up.”
So what can you do to improve your posture? Strong core muscles are a good start. Walking, Pilates, weight lifting, and cardio workouts can improve the endurance of your postural muscles, Dible says.
Hitting the gym isn’t the only way you can work on your posture. If it seems overwhelming to think about standing and sitting up straight all day, Dible suggests thinking about posture as something to work on in bursts throughout the day. Here are some of her favorite ways to keep an eye on the posture prize:
- Use a timer, sticky notes, or other cues to remind yourself to change your posture every 30 minutes. If you’re sitting, stand up. If you’re slouching, sit upright. While watching TV, use commercial breaks as a reminder to shift your posture for the better.
- Take a quick stretch break at your desk and stand up tall, reaching for the sky. (If you have pain and stiffness in your shoulders, reach only as far as you can without pain.) This action elongates your body, makes posture muscles work against gravity, and releases tension from your back and shoulders.
- Lie on your back with a foam roller (or pool noodle or rolled beach towel) underneath and perpendicular to your spine. Keep your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your whole spine, tailbone, and head should be balanced along the roller. Do this for about five minutes a day for two weeks and you could see a change for the better in your posture.
If you’re more of a gadget guru, you might prefer a wearable device such as the Lumo Lift. This device is clipped to your shirt and will vibrate when you slouch. The device is calibrated to your best posture. Much like a Fitbit or other popular fitness trackers, the Lumo Lift offers the convenience of an app accessed from your smartphone or tablet. If you’ve had success with other wearables, the $100 price tag could be worth it.
Whether you choose the high-tech option or make a small change to your routine, you can improve your posture—and your health, your career, and your mental outlook to boot.
Sandra Smit, MPH, CHES, is a worksite wellness professional and health educator living in Portland, OR.