Contrary to what your parents probably told you, your poor posture isn’t due to laziness—at least, not solely. Other contributing factors? Unsupportive shoes (like your favorite flippy-floppies), stress, and genetics (thanks, Mom and Dad.) But your parents were still spot-on about the ill effects of slouching: Poor posture can lead to bad circulation and chronic fatigue, as well as chronic back, neck, and shoulder pain (not to mention a host of other spine and mobility issues). Who wants that? Here are five tips to help you improve your standing posture:
1. Take a Load Off, Fannie
If you carry a heavy bag on one shoulder (ahem, I’m looking at all of you carrying giant shopper totes—myself included), you force that shoulder to bear all the burden of your water bottle, keys, cell phone, snacks, wallet, day planner, cell phone, iPad, makeup bag, hairbrush, curling iron, flat iron, and everything else but the kitchen sink. Share the wealth by periodically switching from one shoulder to the other, or wear a cross-body bag to better distribute the weight. And pass a critical eye over your bag’s inventory. Do you really need to carry the contents of your bathroom cupboards with you at all times? Probably not, but if you must, consider investing in a sturdy gym bag and keeping it—along with all of your heavy essentials—in your car (and off your shoulders).
2. Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes
More than a simple song to teach children about anatomy, this little ditty can help you maintain proper vertical alignment (no singing required). When standing, make sure you place equal weight on each leg while staying mindful of these four body parts:
- Head: Face forward and look straight ahead, keeping your chin parallel with the floor.
- Shoulders: Keep them level and relaxed, rolling them down and away from your ears.
- Knees: Bend them slightly.
- Toes (and feet): Point them forward and keep them shoulder-width apart.
If you have to stand for long periods of time, it’s easy to fall into a poor standing posture as your body fatigues, so regularly take stock of your body’s position to make sure you’re maintaining proper posture.
3. City of (Wall) Angels
There are lots of great stretches for improving your posture, but wall angels—sort of like snow angels, but without the freezing cold—are, in my opinion, the most fun. Plus, you can even do them at the office. Win, freaking win. To try this stretch, find a sturdy wall and squat with your back firmly against it (your basic wall sit position). Don’t push your back into the wall, but be sure your tailbone, lower back, upper back, and head are all touching the wall. Next, pull back your shoulders and squeeze your shoulder blades together; then, put your arms up and against the wall at a 90 degree angle and move them up and down the wall (the back of your hands, wrists, and elbows should maintain contact with the wall).
4. Happy Feet
Your shoes need to have good support that meets the specific needs of your feet. Generally speaking, you’ll want to consider a few key features when choosing the best shoes for your feet, including:
- arch support
If you know you need new shoes, you can turn to the Internet for recommendations (check here and here), but just because a shoe has great reviews doesn’t guarantee it will be comfortable for you. So, always try on shoes before buying them, and wear them around your house for a few days to make sure they offer the support you need. Keep in mind that it might take a few purchases to find the perfect pair for your feet.
Oh, and high heels (basically, anything over an inch tall) are highly discouraged.
5. The Core
No, this isn’t the kind of core that Eric Clapton sang about, but like this often-underappreciated love song, your body’s core—the complex series of muscles that stabilize you during movement—doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. While exercise in general is great for improving your overall posture, to specifically improve your standing posture, you’ll need to strengthen those muscles by incorporating core exercises into your routine. Whole-body workouts like Pilates and Yoga are great options for developing core strength without doing crunches all day long.
Got it? Good. These tips should help you improve your standing posture, but if you still find yourself dealing with aches and pains related to slumping, leaning, and other bad standing habits, a physical therapist can provide you with posture and body mechanics training to realign your body. Find one in your area here.