Woman sitting at desk

Our parents tell us to stand up straight from a young age. Many probably remember walking around the house with a book on their head to improve their posture. Still, why is doing this so important? What does good posture mean health-wise? It may be aesthetic since we’re taught that models with good posture are what we should try to resemble, and there are some science-backed benefits.

Still, there are probably fewer benefits to perfect posture than previously thought. So is having good posture beneficial, or does it not matter?

What is good posture?

According to a spine surgeon at UConn Health, Dr. Scott Mallozzi, proper posture means having your head centered above your feet and pelvis. Instead of your head and neck slouching forward, you should stand straight up with your pelvis, head, and feet in alignment. However, one posture doesn’t fit all. Because of conditions like spinal arthritis, slumping forward feels better for some people, particularly older individuals.

Having that person arch their back and sit straight all day long would be painful, so good posture for one person might not be possible for someone else. Also, age-related change is part of life regarding our bodies. It’s natural for your spine to change and require different postures during your life. Ask yourself, what will your spine look like at 60? Do you think it’ll look like you’re 30, or would you expect changes? For you, good posture may shift, and that’s normal.

Is good posture good for your health?

The answer to that question depends on who you ask. On the one hand, Dr. Amit Jahn, a spine surgery chief at Johns Hopkins, says that good posture reduces wear and tear on the spine. The National Institutes of Health believes that slouching can cause your spine to become more prone to injury by becoming more fragile. Having good posture doesn’t mean you won’t develop back problems one day, but having excellent spinal strength could help you better cope if you have to deal with these issues in the future.

Your muscles will have to work harder if your posture results in an uneven weight distribution or an excessive strain on your body. For example, people who droop their necks to look at their phones or other devices typically suffer from text necks, creating more stress on the body. The human head weighs 10 pounds, so for every inch your head is tilted forward, your neck has to carry double the weight. That hunched texting posture isn’t doing your neck muscles any favors. Still, standing up straight might not fix your health issues either, but it won’t save you from existing back problems.

Experts say there is little evidence to support posture and prevention of future pain or reduction in current pain. One study noted that the practice of public health messages to sit up straight to stop neck pain needs reworking, finding that slumped posture in teenagers resulted in less neck pain as they grew into young adulthood.

Should you care about having good posture?

It might help to focus on strengthening specific muscle groups instead of constantly reminding yourself to stand up straight. Exercising allows these muscles to support your spine better and help your body stand up straight and comfortably without making you feel uncomfortable or forcing it. Two muscle groups work well to help you with your posture.

The first is the paraspinal muscles, the muscles surrounding your spine from your neck to your lower back. If you have a strong muscle group around your spine, your joints and discs won’t work as hard because they’re supported. The second muscle group important to work is your core, which further helps support your back. You can exercise these muscle groups by doing Pilates, yoga, or general strength exercises like bridges, crunches, planks, and shoulder-blade squeezes. These exercises help people achieve this musculature that’s supportive of good posture.

It should be noted that some factors that impact posture can’t be fixed with exercise. Problems like stiffness in the hips or arthritis won’t go away. However, if you start prioritizing strength exercise while young, you’ll set yourself up for success. The more you have a decent base to start, the more you’ll be able to compensate if you develop other problems. Exercise is good for heart health, but it’s also good for preventing osteoporosis. People who exercise also tend to have better mental health.

Having good posture isn’t a cure-all.

Incorporating different movements into your day is more important than focusing on sitting or standing up straight. The fluidity of not being in the same position all day, like sitting or standing, is essential. It doesn’t matter if you slump or sit up straight in these positions, but being in the same place for eight hours a day isn’t ideal. For example, you’ll feel stiff from sitting in front of your laptop all day and hunch forward with your neck poking out while doing so.

Experts recommend taking scheduled breaks from sitting while working or getting a standing desk for your work-from-home setup. Sitting or standing up straight might feel right for you, but it won’t happen for everyone, and that’s okay. Good posture has benefits, like less strain on surrounding muscles and pain reduction. The pressure people get from society and family members about their stance are slightly exaggerated. Hunching over in high school doesn’t mean you’ll have a hunch back as you age. Still, prioritizing muscle strength through movement and fitness can help alleviate some daily pressure on your spine.

As children, most of our parents told us to sit up straight. Some even went as far as having their kids balance a book on their heads. However, experts say that good posture isn’t a one size fit all and depends on the person, so good posture for you may not be suitable for someone else. When it comes to having good posture, it would be best if you find something that works for you and stick with it.

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