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7 ways to improve your posture

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 23/06/2015 Samantha Costa

When sitting in a chair your spine should not be curved and your head should not be dipped.: Woman slouching in her chair. © (Getty Images) Woman slouching in her chair. Maybe you lock one knee while standing or sit hunched over on the edge of your seat. Sound familiar? Mom knew what she was talking about. You have terrible posture.

Correct posture helps align bones and joints so that muscles are being used – not strained. Experts say ignoring good posture techniques can lead to joint and muscle pain.

Poor posture can be a result of stress, obesity, pregnancy, tight or abnormal muscles, or simply wearing high heels. Unfortunately, slumping and slouching can become second nature if you’ve done it repeatedly throughout your life.

Counteract your body’s bad habits – whether you’re standing or sitting – with these tips:

1. Sit up straight. 

© Corbis Imagine you’re a puppet and somebody just yanked your hair straight up in the air. (Ouch!) For most of us, that would almost perfectly align us, says Dr. Cynthia Vaughn, spokeswoman for the American Chiropractic Association, who practices in Austin, Texas. Your spine should not be curved, nor should your head be dipped. Instead, sit erect and look straight ahead. Your feet should touch the floor, with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, she explains.

2. Never sit on your foot.

Ladies, this one is for you: “Women are the guiltiest party of this. This is a big-time problem because you’re creating a tremendous amount of external rotational problems with that hip and knee,” Vaughn says. Anything done for up to 10 seconds is fine, but don’t let it become a habit. While you’re at it, uncross your legs. Putting pressure on one more than the other can create circulation issues, Vaughn says.

3. Ditch the heels. 

Standing in heels can also impact your posture. © Wonyeop & Hyerim/TongRo Imag Standing in heels can also impact your posture. If you want to maintain the essential 90-degree angle while seated, you’ll have to kick off your heels. But if you’re a fan of the shoes, wear them sparingly, Vaughn says. Standing in heels can also impact your posture. “They can create an increased lumbar curve in the lower back,” she says, resulting in lower back pain. Guys, unload your back pockets. Sitting on that bulky wallet can create an uneven cheek situation that could twist your pelvis.

4. Mind your workstation.

Working at a desk can sometimes promote poor posture habits. Make it a goal to keep yourself aligned with the height of your computer monitor; your eyes should be level with the top of it. Avoid headaches and neck pain by making sure your ears are over the middle of your shoulders, not dipped toward one or the other, Vaughn says. And don’t forget to stand up and stretch your legs every 20 to 30 minutes. 

5. Stand tall. 

© REX/WestEnd61 The same ear-positioning rule is recommended for optimal posture while standing. If your job or other activities like cooking have you on your feet for more than 30 minutes, try resting one foot on something about four to six inches off the ground. This will create a slight bend in your knee that will take some pressure off your lower back. If that’s not an option, Vaughn recommends keeping your feet shoulder-width apart, with your weight distributed evenly between both feet. Then, gently lean left, then right; back and forth, she explains, to prevent fatigue-induced contortions. 

6. Try yoga.

© Knut Schulz/Westend61/Corbis Yoga helps lengthen the spine, says Judi Bar, yoga program manager at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. “Lengthening the spine is really just coming to a normal, well-aligned, physiologically good stance,” she says. To stand tall, she recommends practicing mountain pose. Roll your shoulders back, raise your chin so your ears are above your shoulders and relax your arms at your sides. To loosen and soften muscles, which helps build balance and release tension, Bar recommends doing the cat pose. Place your hands and knees on the ground and round your back toward the ceiling. To strengthen your upper back and neck, try planks. “Stretch the tight muscles and strengthen the weak muscles,” she says. “Over time, it does automatically help you with posture.”

7. See a professional.

If you’re in pain and suspect poor posture is to blame, book an appointment with your primary doctor. Specialists can teach you about proper posture techniques as well as help you identify which exercises will work best for you – and which ones to avoid.

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