Turns out grandma was right, sitting – and standing – up straight is good for you.
Bob Marley may have been talking about something else entirely when he sang, “Get up! Stand up!” but his famous anthem could easily serve as the theme song for posture.
We might add in “Sit up!” because, basically, it comes down to that: You slump, you lose. And that goes for when you’re sitting, walking, or exercising.
Don’t be a slouch
Bad posture, that stooped over caveman look — curved back, shoulders rolled forward — causes abnormal wear and tear on our joints, spine deterioration, and leads to back, neck, and shoulder pain. It even affects how we move, says Brock Christopher, a performance manager with the UHealth Human Performance powered by EXOS program at The Lennar Foundation Medical Center.
To see the effect in action, he says, “roll your shoulders like you’re sitting at a desk and you’ll notice that that completely restricts both the rotation of the shoulders and the ability to lift your arms up above your head. And then if you get yourself nice and tall, you’ll find that the end range changes completely.”
Good posture, on the other hand — shoulders back, gut in — does pretty much the opposite. It decreases the stress on the ligaments that hold the joints and spine in place, prevents strain and overuse issues, and, it actually helps prevent fatigue because it helps us use our muscles more efficiently.
Most of us spend a big chunk of our lives with our posteriors planted — on chairs at work, couches at home, car seats on our commutes.
“On average in corporate America,” Christopher says, “someone sits for 6.2 hours in a 9-to-5 day. Over the course of a 30-year career that’s 48,000 hours— or five years of your life — that’s dedicated to sitting.”
The result, he says, “basically shuts off your glutes and pulls you into what’s called anterior pelvic tilt. And because of that you get bone on bone compression in your low back.”
So, naturally, one of the ways to improve posture is to — cue the Bob Marley — Get Up! Stand Up! every once in a while. Even changing your sitting position every 30 minutes or so helps. So does sitting properly, back straight, feet on a foot rest to raise the thighs slightly. And — The Black Keys this time — Tighten Up.
“One of the easiest things you can do to fix posture,” says Christoper, “is just, consistently throughout the day, squeezing your glutes together.”
To test, or improve, your standing posture, he says, stand tall and balance a book on your head. You get extra points for keeping it there while you walk.
Take a deep breath
Lastly, he recommends focusing on your breathing.
“A lot of people are what we call atypical breathers. They breathe from the shoulders. If you breathe from the diaphragm and hold that exhale, that kind of hits what we call the T.A. or the transverse abdominis and strengthens the low back. So it’s another way to strengthen the midsection or where a lot of people call the core.”
Which will help you when you Get up! Stand Up!, of course.
Carlos Harrison is a contributing writer for the UMiami Health News Blog. He is a former national and international television correspondent, as well as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor.