Sit up straight. Don't slouch. We can all remember having our posture corrected by an elder at some point in our childhood. And while the vast majority of us brushed this off as a nuisance, I think anyone would be hard pressed to disagree with the general recommendation. Proper posture is good for you. But why is it good, and how much does it matter?
As it turns out, posture plays a fundamental role in almost everything we do—even in how we feel emotionally on a regular basis. The quality of your posture can affect your mood, energy level, flexibility, and exercise performance. It can even affect your long term health!
Posture can impact you right now in a number of ways. When you have a rounded shoulder, head forward, pelvis-tilted posture, it will be nearly impossible to execute any exercise with proper form. You're also much more likely to sustain an injury, even doing non-strenuous tasks. A flexed spine (slouched posture) is under around ten times the stress of a neutral spine (with proper posture) at any task, meaning that you can sustain a back injury even doing something minimally strenuous when your back is rounded. This equates bending down and picking up a 20 pound infant with bad posture to performing a 200 pound deadlift with a neutral spine!(1) In addition to that, the forward rolled position of the shoulder joints under improper posture make sustaining a rotator cuff injury far more likely when performing virtually any upper body exercise or activity. All this is why when training a client my first three rules of proper technique are 1) Posture, 2) Posture, and 3) Posture.
Posture can also impact our long term health. Along with obvious detriments such as reduced height and flexibility, slouched posture can lead to thoracic kyphosis, where the upper back becomes permanently rounded, impeding airways and reducing the volume of our lungs. Our body language also engages in an important two-way feedback loop with our emotional health. If we stand tall and take up space, we convey confidence to others and our bodies will actually increase the production of testosterone to back up that message. However, the reverse is also true. Poor posture conveys apprehension and submissiveness, and our bodies will respond to this signal by increasing production of the stress hormone cortisol.(2) Cortisol wreaks havoc on our bodies over time and is implicated in virtually every chronic disease, so increasing its production day in and day out is very bad news!
So while it may seem like a no-brainer, taking the time to improve and maintain your posture can pay huge dividends to your health and well being. Strive to sit up straight or, better yet, stand. Walk instead of drive whenever possible, and take up that weekly yoga class you've been thinking about or sign up with that personal trainer you've been considering so that you can start reaping the benefits of good posture and protecting your health today!
1) McGill. Biomechanics of Low Back Injury. Journal of Biomechanics, 30(5). 465-475. 1997
2) Cuddy, et al. Power posing brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance. Psychological Science, 21(10). 1363-1368. 2010