by Sarah Hughes
It was the one thing all our Grannies nagged us about when we were teenagers wasn’t it?
“Stand up straight!”
I hate to say it folks, but they were right. We all look so much better when we have good posture. Our Grannies told us we’d look taller and slimmer if we pushed our shoulders back, lifted our chin and elongated our spine… and anecdotally I’d say that’s true. I’ve been a Pilates instructor for 12 years I have seen clients look a dress size smaller just by learning some basic Pilates principles and focusing on posture rather than weight loss.
But whereas historically what we thought about good posture was always linked to aesthetics, it turns out the benefits of it run much, much deeper. In fact, a randomised trial carried out in 2015 concluded that ‘adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood compared to a slumped posture. Furthermore, sitting upright increases the rate of speech and reduces self-focus.’
It turns out that sitting upright may be a simple behavioural strategy to help build resilience to stress. Who knew!?
Other robust studies have proven that upright posture has a positive effect on anxiety and depressive symptoms and researchers have even shown that participants were less able to recall positive memories whilst sitting slumped than they were if they were sitting up tall.
This research was all new to me whilst researching this article, but it absolutely makes sense. Good posture is bound to make us feel a bit more confident, and therefore raise self-eteem. And the higher our self esteem, the happier and more optimistic we tend to feel, right?
Aside from posture being a mood-booster, you can also add the following physical wins:
Having good posture puts less tress on bones and joints (which can only be a good thing as we age and our bones degenerate)
It helps us breath more easily since an open-chest posture gives more space for your lungs to expand
It strengthens our core muscles by activating them to keep us upright - saving time on those crunches and planks
Good posture whilst exercising helps you maintain correct form meaning you’re less likely to get injured
So now we know why we should strive for the posture our Granny wanted for us; how do we go about achieving it?
Here are my 5 top tips for improving posture fast:
Relax, then look in the mirror and give yourself a postural assessment. Ideally, your head is in alignment with the spine, right on top of the body, not jutting forward or back, or leaning left or right. Your shoulders are even and down away from the ears. Your pelvis is in a neutral position so you’re not pressing it forward or sticking your bottom out. Your hips, knees and ankles are in a fairly straight line rather than the toes being turned in, or turned out ballerina style. When you are aware of your postural quirks (and we all have them!) you can go about making changes to them. Awareness is key.
Stretch every day. It doesn’t have to be a full yoga routine, just a few neck circles, shoulder rolls, arm circles, gentle toe touches will release tension and tightness and help you realign your spine.
Move regularly! With so many of us now working from home it’s far too easy to spend eight straight hours sitting hunched in front of a laptop. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to get up each hour, take a bit of a stretch and get the legs moving. Just the act of standing up will lengthen the hip flexors and elongate the spine. If you can get out for a brisk 15-minute walk during your lunch break with a focus on engaging the core and standing tall, even better.
Lift your phone to eye level! This is a huge one. Over my time as a Pilates Instructor, I’ve seen increasing amounts of younger people regularly complaining of tech-neck (aka aches and pains in the neck due to constantly looking down at a screen.) Try to get into the habit of lifting the phone to you, rather than you looking down at it. This way you can keep your chin lifted, parallel to the floor and keep the cervical vertebrae stacked rather than curved.
Invest some time in Pilates! A strong core is vital for maintaining great posture. Well obviously I was going to say that; Pilates fanatic that I am. But genuinely, even if you can’t find time for an in-person class, 30 minutes a few times per week online will give you huge results. If funds allow, book a one-to-one with a Pilates teacher first so that you have the basics covered.