By Faye M Smith
Learning how to fix posture may seem like an uphill battle, especially if you’ve spent years slouched in front of a computer. But, the good news is it's not too late. And, it's actually easier than you might think...
If you have bad posture you’re not alone. Years of bending over laptops and smartphones and even wearing high-heeled shoes have only added to the problem. Not only does the constant hunching force the lower back to curve excessively, and push your stomach outwards—making you look much heavier than you are—but it could also be harming your health.
Bad posture can put unnecessary strain on your joints, cause headaches, back and neck pain, bad circulation and increased tension in your body. Short-term tweaks can help you look instantly slimmer and feel younger, but it's the long-term benefits that really make a difference.
Research by Dr Elizabeth Broadbent, for the University of Auckland, found sitting hunched over and slumped, could leave you feeling down and miserable. While sitting up straight could help you to feel less scared and more enthusiastic.
Taking up yoga for beginners is a great way to improve posture, but there are other simple steps you can take every day to ease tension and feel great.
How to fix your posture
1. Align your feet
Knowing how to fix your posture doesn’t have to be tricky, you just need to focus on the floor first and then work upwards.
“I always tell my clients to start with their feet if they want to shift their posture,” says osteopath Monica Franke. She recommends checking your alignment a couple of times a day until it becomes your new normal.
- Take three long, slow breaths with feet contacting the ground—aim for 50% of the weight in the heel, 30% around the big toe and midfoot, and 20% to the outer two toes.
- Let the knees soften a little, and the back of your pelvis to gently lengthen down.
- Breathe softly into the space between your shoulder blades and then breathe out allowing the lower ribs to come together and back. Imagine the way you squeeze a tube of toothpaste, it narrows to push the paste out.
- Allow your shoulders to soften into the back of the ribcage, which is where we want them, not squeezed back or up in our ears.
2. Wear supportive footwear
While most of us choose shoes for how they look, it could be doing more harm than good. For better posture—fast—you may need to ditch your usual styles. “High heels, sandals, flip-flops and plimsoll-style trainers are all proven to add pressure and stress to your spine,” says lead physiotherapist Phil Evans.
“This is because there’s a lack of cushioning to absorb shock, and the same goes for bare feet and slippers. Without cushioned footwear, your lower back has to take all of the impact every time your foot lands on the floor, which isn’t good for your Achilles, knees or hips either. Wearing soft, well-fitted shoes at all times improves posture and could reduce your lower back pain by as much as 25%.”
3. Sit upright
“Sitting up straight wakes up your brain stem, giving you an awakening feeling all over,” says nutritionist Charlotte Watts, author of The De-Stress Effect.
The fastest way to fix posture when sitting is to practice the poses set out in the Feldenkrais Method. Developed in the mid-20th century, its gentle techniques aim to help correct poor posture habits that can cause stress and tension.
“It doesn’t matter what shape you’re in or how old you are, anyone can do it,” says Jeff Bell of Spectrum Wellness in New York. “Each move is performed slowly without pulling or pushing—it’s one of the safest forms of stretching,” he explains.
How to do the Feldenkrais Method at home:
- Sit upright in a chair (without leaning on the backrest) and face straight ahead.
- Slouch by slowly rounding your back, tilting your pelvis towards your bottom.
- Straighten, then slowly tilt your pelvis forward towards your legs, as if trying to improve your posture.
- Tilt your pelvis back and repeat, slouching and straightening several times, noticing the difference in how your body feels.
4. Change your desk set up
Ensure your computer is set at the correct height when you’re sitting, with the middle of the screen at eye level. “Your desk and chair should be adjusted to the height that allows you to reach the work surface easily when your arms are at your sides with the elbows bent to 90 degrees,” says Phil.
Your office chair should have a full back that extends from the seat of the chair to your shoulders or above, to support your lower back and prevent slouching. “Keep your feet flat on the floor and slightly ahead of your knees, which are bent at a 90- to a 120-degree angle,” says Phil.
“If you’re looking downwards your spine becomes more and more rounded, stretching the muscles and putting more force on the joints and pressure on the discs. Tension in these sensitive areas is likely to cause pain in the neck and shoulders so try to keep your shoulders relaxed, upper arms to fall normally at your sides and elbows close to your body.”
5. Stay active
Fixing your posture could be as easy as getting active every day. “Humans are not designed to sit, it goes against the fundamental rules of evolution,” says Phil. “Sitting multiplies the pressure on your spine 10 times from your head than when you stand tall. This often causes pain and tension in the neck and shoulder region because many of us slouch, meaning the muscles in your spine that are designed to protect you (the core muscle group) simply don’t work.”
If you have to sit for long periods, get up for a quick walk and stretch every 20 minutes to wake up your body. Set a timer on your phone to remind you before it becomes second nature, or invest in one of the best fitness trackers to track your daily activity and motivate you to move more.
6. Banish reading in bed
While it may seem relaxing, reading in bed could be causing problems with your posture.
“Avoid reading for more than 20 minutes in bed because your head is looking forwards and down, which increases tension in your muscles,” says Phil.
“It’s a bit like stretching an elastic band too far, eventually it will fray and even snap. Worse, at this late time of day, your muscles are already tired and weak so placing them under even more pressure will inevitably increase tension.”
If you struggle with back at night, try one of the best pillows for back pain to ease tension and help you sleep more comfortably.
7. Check your sleeping position
Your bad posture could be all down to the sleeping positions you choose at night. Changing the way you sleep could be the fastest way to fix posture—and it’s easy, too.
“Avoid sleeping on your stomach because there isn’t a more effective, faster route to self-inflicted damage to your neck and shoulder,” says Phil. “Every part of your neck and shoulder joint is twisted and in the wrong position.”
Choosing the best pillows for neck pain could be a big help, especially if you are experiencing regular aches and discomfort.
“Sleep with one soft pillow if possible because taking away a second pillow lowers the amount of stretching and tension in your neck,” adds Phil. “Frequent headaches, migraines, poor posture, and constant shoulder tension are a sign of spending every night in the wrong position.”
8. Think about how you carry bags
“Carrying a handbag on one arm or in one hand adds tension to your neck and shoulder because the weight isn’t evenly distributed, causing one side of your body to be under more pressure than the other,” says Phil.
“If you carry a bag over the same shoulder all the time, you could end up with a curvature of the spine because that side is working much harder than the other. This will lead to pain, not to mention an unhealthy looking posture which will make you look older than your years.”
The solution is to invest in one of the best backpacks to evenly distribute the weight, and try and lighten your load whenever possible.
9. Use water and ice
We all know the importance of keeping hydrated by drinking lots of water, but using ice and hot water on your body is also a great way of preventing serious shoulder and neck pain and therefore your posture.
“At the end of a busy day when you’re feeling a little achy, apply an ice pack to the affected area for around 10 minutes and repeat every hour, if necessary,” says Phil. “It can also be beneficial to apply a hot water bottle when your neck and shoulder are feeling more stiff than painful. Again do this for around 10 minutes.”
The best exercises to improve posture
From better posture stretches to general exercises to improve strength, keeping your body flexible and moving is a great way to get better posture for life.
Experts have been shouting about the benefits of yoga for decades and recommending yoga for back pain instead of popping pills. Similarly, Pilates can make a big difference and are easy to add to your daily routine.
“Pilates is a series of exercises designed to improve muscle tone and the lack of control that is the root cause of poor posture in most people,” says Phil. “Yoga for posture is equally beneficial, comprising stretches designed to make your body more supple and more flexible. Regular Pilates and yoga essentially strengthen the body to fight the impact of aging, especially for those in the 40-60 years age bracket.”
Best exercises to improve posture include:
1. The spine curl
One of the main reasons for poor posture, or an inability to hold good posture, is tight hip flexors—these are a group of muscles towards the front of the hips near the top of the thighs. When we sit for long periods, these can become shortened and pull on the pelvis, affecting our posture. Doing pelvic tilts every day is a great way to prevent this and can easily become part of your kegel exercises routine.
How to do a pelvic tilt:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, with your arms by your sides and palms facing down.
- Keep your spine neutral, i.e. in line with your hips and shoulders and not arched.
- Take a big breath in through your nose and then gently exhale through your mouth as you pull your navel towards your spine, tilting your pelvis so your pubic bone lifts. Hold for a few seconds before lowering back down. Repeat 10 times.
2. The squat
If there's one exercise Monica always recommends to women looking to improve their posture, it's the humble squat.
“Getting in and out of a chair, car and taking the stairs. These all require very similar mechanics in terms of loading through the feet, hips and spine and stabilizing through the core. And you can add elements to this that extend your capacity in your muscles, tendons, pelvic floor, lungs and heart, so maintaining good balance sense, good joint loading, greater compliance in the pelvic floor and increased cardiovascular efficiency.”
How to do a squat:
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Keeping feet flat and back straight, lower into a sitting position as far as you can go.
- Hold for three seconds, then push your heels into the floor and drive back up.
3. The early morning stretch
Re-engage your posture first thing in the morning with a better posture stretch. It will quickly readjust your muscles and pull everything back into place after a night of lying in bed.
How to stretch in the morning:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and arms by your sides. Imagine you have a piece of string from the top of your head pulling you up to the ceiling, so you lift your entire body, making it as tall as possible but still keeping your feet firmly placed on the floor.
- Keep your tummy muscles pulled in tight and take a deep breath in. As you inhale, raise one arm directly above your head, then very slightly bend your upper body to the opposite side, hold for a couple of seconds and then return and swap sides. Keep taking deep breaths in and out.
- Repeat these alternating side stretches 10 times every morning.
woman&home thanks osteopath Monica Franke, physiotherapist Phil Evans, nutritionist and author of The De-Stress Effect Charlotte Watts, and Jeff Bell of Spectrum Wellness in New York.
Faye M Smith is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years experience in the magazine industry. Her continued work in the area of natural health won her the coveted title of theHealth Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) Journalist of the Year Award 2021.
Currently Acting Health Editor across several brands including woman&home, Woman and Woman’s Own, Faye specialises in writing about mental health, the menopause, and sex and relationships. In fact, having previously been the go-to sex columnist for Now magazine, there isn't much she won't discuss when it comes to women's health. This makes her the best person to review must-buy sex toys, describe how to have a mind-blowing orgasm or explain how to navigate sex in the shower without it ending in a medical emergency.
While not anti-gym, Faye’s fitness routine is more focussed on finding inner balance rather than burning excess calories. An advocate of mindfulness, she loves power breathing, yoga and plenty of walking in nearby woodlands rather than a sweaty HIIT class. Follow her @fayetuned
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