If your average day involves several hours hunching over a computer, unwinding with a few precious moments collapsed on the couch, then flitting about the kitchen making dinner, remembering to keep your posture correct may not come easily.
But all that hunching and hurrying can take a toll on your muscles and joints, and it ultimately affects your posture — which is more important to your well-being than you might think.
Having good posture means your body works and rests in positions where minimal strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments. Ideal posture keeps bones and joints in proper alignment so muscles are used most efficiently, helping to prevent fatigue, backaches, chronic pain, organ function and abnormal wearing of joint surfaces, which can result in arthritis.
"Posture is important because having a stable base, or core, is important," said Nora Sullivan, manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation at Swedish Covenant Hospital. "If core muscles are strong and our alignment is optimal, we can be most effective and efficient in any activity, whether that be sitting and working at a computer, running a marathon or carrying a box."
These everyday scenarios are the functional focus of posture classes offered at Galter LifeCenter, where participants learn about stretching, strengthening and massage therapy techniques which can contribute to a healthy posture.
No slouching on the job
These lessons are especially important if you work at a desk, as 40 hours a week in the same position can lead to serious back and neck pain if you're slumping or not properly supporting your lower back.
The ideal posture for sitting at a desk is '90-90-90' - a 90-degree angle for hips, knees and elbows, with your feet touching the floor. Also, your computer monitor should be such that you're looking straight ahead, and not up too high or down too low, according to Sullivan.
A properly-aligned sitting position at a desk means your ears are over your shoulders, and your shoulders are over your hips. When you slump, your head leans too far forward, and your neck muscles will shorten and tighten. After several hours in that position, stress can lead to a tension headache and stiff, sore muscles.
Don’t slump on the couch
Even when you're relaxing or sleeping, it's smart to be mindful of your posture. On the couch, for example, reclining on a large pillow is better than propping your neck on the side of the couch.
"When you're sleeping, keep your body in a neutral position, maintaining its natural curves, if possible," said Sullivan. "A moderately firm bed is best, with a small contour pillow to support your neck. If you're on your side, having a pillow between your knees keeps your spine in a more neutral position."
Having the spine in a more neutral position keeps rotational forces from going through your low back and into your hip, which would aggravate any existing conditions.
Pointers for poised posture
Flexibility, circulation and posture are all improved and maintained with strength training and regular, gentle stretching exercises.
Hold each of the following stretches for 20 to 60 seconds on each side, repeat
10 times, and always move slowly - no sudden jerks or bounces.
This article was originally printed in Well magazine, the precursor to this site, in January 2009. Written and edited by the editorial staff of Well magazine and Well Community.