Most of us have an inner voice that tells us to stand up straight and stop slouching. But all too often we override that voice in favor of the more comfortable—and comforting—slump. But hunching is a fickle friend. It may feel easier in the moment, but in the long run it has a negative impact not only on your health, but on your spirit.
Luckily, there are fixes for bad posture. And all of them can make you feel taller, which many experts believe is associated with a sense of confidence and empowerment. But slumping is a force to be reckoned with. The multitude of side effects that stem from poor posture may come as something of a shock.
Here are four of the major ways that bad posture messes with your well-being.
1. Tension headaches
A small Danish study found that neck and shoulder muscles were up to 26 percent weaker in people with regular tension headaches, compared to healthy adults who never had headaches. However, more research needs to be done to demonstrate whether the muscle weakness was the cause or the effect of the headaches. Nevertheless, researchers found associations between weaker neck muscles and frequency of headaches.
The antidote: Building up strength in the neck area may help prevent tension headaches, or at least reduce their pain, study authors suggested.
Typically, poor posture and feeling sad go hand in hand. Again, the question is what comes first: the sadness or the slumping. Both feed into each other—a concept called embodied cognition. It’s the idea that the mind influences the body, and the body influences the mind, in a reciprocal relationship.
Check it out for yourself, noting your posture when you’re having a bad day. More than likely, your shoulders will be hunched, your head looking down, your body slack. One study published in 2009 in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that sitting in a collapsed, helpless position makes you predisposed to negative thoughts and memories, while sitting in an upright, powerful position is more conducive to empowering thoughts and memories.
The collapsed position is very similar to the crouch we assume when we scan our smart phones. It’s often called tech neck, and it may have something to do with the huge jump in depression rates over the last decade or so. According to the U.N, an estimated 322 million people suffered depressive disorders in 2015, a rise of 18.4 percent from 2005.
The antidote: The Cleveland Clinic has a good list of posture protocols for sitting:
- Sit at the end of your chair and slouch completely.
- Draw yourself up and accentuate the curve of your back as far as possible. Hold for a few seconds.
- Release the position slightly (about 10 degrees). This is a good sitting posture.
- Distribute your body weight evenly on both hips.
- Bend your knees at a right angle. Keep your knees even with or slightly higher than your hips. (use a foot rest or stool if necessary). Your legs should not be crossed.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Try to avoid sitting in the same position for more than 30 minutes.
Scrunching up our backs also scrunches up our bellies, which compresses our abdominal organs. This kind of constant compression may eventually impact normal digestion and bowel function. To perform optimally, and keep things moving, intestines need to unfold.
The antidote: Yoga, with its focus on extension, is a great practice for unwinding the core and decompressing the abdomen.
On average, our heads weigh about 10 to 12 pounds. Bending our necks forward, in what’s referred to as a forward head posture, puts you at risk for major strain. Bending forward 60 degrees, typical when using our phones, increases the stress on our neck to 60 pounds. Slowly but surely this takes a toll.
Any time our bodies are out of line with our vertical plumb line, our muscles have to work harder than others to keep us upright. The result? Undue fatigue that outlasts even the muscle strain.
In one study out of San Francisco University, students who were told skip down the hall had much more energy throughout the day than those told to walk down the hall slumped over.
Our phones, as mentioned earlier, may be exacerbating the problem. Small-screen devices, such as smart phones and tablets, cause people to look down and to slouch more than with desktops, leading to more fatigue.
The antidote: Try holding your phone at eye level, which requires keeping your head up and shoulders back.