Many of us are aware that good posture is important for our health – though not all of us are sure why this is. Good posture is all about your spine (and is also referred to as ‘neutral spine’). So when you have good posture, your spine and your body are aligned correctly.
It’s easy to notice when other people have bad posture – for example, when they’re hunched over at their desk – but more difficult to be aware how we position our own body when we’re standing, sitting, or lying down.
So why exactly is posture so important, and what steps can we take to improve our posture?
Why is good posture important?
It’s often quite noticeable when you see people who have good posture. Their stance looks elegant and they tend to appear taller and leaner. But good posture is about much more than how we look.
When we have good posture, we’re better able to develop flexibility, as well as build strength and balance in our bodies. How strong, flexible, and able to balance we are, can have a significant effect on things like our energy levels and the stress we put on our joints and muscles.
Plus, when we work on improving our posture, we also tend to become more aware of our own bodies. This can help us to identify any areas of imbalance or weakness that we might not have been aware of before.
So what are some of the key benefits of good posture?
Good posture can reduce lower back and neck pain
Sitting or standing in a slouched position for a long period of time places stress on the body – in particular the posterior structures of the spine, like the intervertebral discs, facet joints, ligaments, and muscles. This can cause lower back and neck pain.
When your spine is aligned properly, however, your body is able to support your weight without any strain, allowing you to move more comfortably.
Good posture can reduce headaches
Poor posture can create tension in your upper back, neck and shoulders, which can contribute to headaches. So, by taking steps to improve your posture, you may be able to reduce muscle tension and the number of headaches you get.
Good posture can improve circulation and digestion
Slouching in an unnatural position compresses your vital organs – which means that those organs aren’t going to work as well as they should. Because healthy blood flow requires proper alignment, this can have an effect on your circulation.
Plus, being hunched or slouched over can affect digestion, and increase the likelihood of things like acid reflux and constipation.
Good posture can improve muscle and joint function
Good posture becomes increasingly important as we get older. Our joints can wear down naturally due to things like age and genetics – but if you have poor posture, it can create more stress on your joints and cause them to wear away faster. Poor posture can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis, which is commonly known as ‘wear and tear’ arthritis.
However, when you have good posture, your muscles and joints are able to function properly, and stay healthy and lubricated, which helps to avoid any abnormal wear and tear.
Good posture can improve spine health and core strength
Maintaining good posture is one of the easiest ways to keep your spine strong and healthy. While improving your posture is unlikely to happen overnight, taking time to work on it will provide your back with more support, which can improve spine health.
Plus, because maintaining posture requires muscular effort, our core and upper back muscles stay active and engaged, which can improve core strength – something that’s really important for building strength and balance as we get older.
5 exercises to improve your posture
So, now we know why good posture is so important, what steps can we take to improve our own posture?
The good news is that there are lots of exercises that can help us maintain good posture. Most of these exercises are focused on strengthening the core – that’s why practices like yoga and pilates, which target the whole core with slow, deliberate movements, can be so beneficial for improving posture.
So which exercises specifically are most beneficial?
1. Child’s Pose
Child’s Pose is considered to be yoga’s most important resting posture. It stretches out the back, hips and thighs, and can help lengthen and stretch the spine and relieve back pain and tension. Doing Child’s Pose every morning and night is a good way to improve your posture – especially if you find yourself slouching a lot.
How to do Child’s Pose:
- Sit on your hands and knees, with your knees shoulder-width apart, your big toes touching, and your heels splayed out.
- Slowly walk your hands out in front of you, extending your arms straight out.
- Sink your hips back so they’re resting on your heels, and rest your forehead on the floor.
- Breathe deeply into your rib cage and hold the pose for up to five minutes.
To see how to perform Child’s Pose, have a watch of the video below.
Cat-Cow is another yoga exercise that can improve both posture and balance. Because it involves moving the spine from a rounded position to an arched one, it helps to stretch out your spine and relieve tension in your torso, shoulders, and neck, while also improving blood circulation.
How to do the Cat-Cow:
- Start on your hands and knees, keeping your spine neutral. Keep your fingers spread out on the floor to improve your stability.
- As you inhale, move into a cow pose: tilt your pelvis back so your tailbone is sticking up, press your chest forward, allow your belly to drop down, and look up.
- As you exhale, move into a cat pose: tip your pelvis forward, round your spine out and push it towards the ceiling, and gaze down at your navel.
- See how many of these exercises you can perform in one minute.
To see how to perform Cat-Cow, have a watch of the video below.
3. Thoracic spine rotation
Your thoracic spine is the midsection of your vertebra, between your neck and lower back. Thoracic spine rotations can help improve mobility in your torso, and also reduce back pain and stiffness. It’s also important for ensuring you maintain good posture, and can improve stability too.
How to do a thoracic spine rotation:
- Begin by lying on your right side with your hands extended in front of you, fingers spread.
- Place your left hand behind your head with your elbow extended out, but keep your right hand outstretched on the floor in front of you.
- Exhale, then rotate your left arm up towards the ceiling and over to your right hand while you stretch out the front of your torso. Hold for one inhale and one exhale.
- Return to the starting position and repeat five or ten times.
Switch sides and arms, and repeat.
To see how to perform a thoracic spine rotation, have a watch of the video below.
4. Standing forward fold
A standing forward fold stretch lengthens the spine and stretches out the back muscles, as well as the backs of the legs. It helps to open the hips and is good for releasing any tension in the neck and shoulders.
How to do standing forward fold:
- Start with your feet slightly apart but your big toes touching. Allow your knees to bend.
- As you exhale, fold forward at the hips and lengthen the front of your torso.
- Bend your elbows, and drop your arms towards the ground to hold each ankle. If you can’t do this, don’t worry – just allow your arms to drop as far as they can and hold each elbow with the opposite hand.
- Drop your head and neck, then extend your legs and spine until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
- Each time you exhale, try to stretch a little more. Hold the pose for a minute if you can.
To see how to perform standing forward fold, have a watch of the video below.
5. High plank
The high plank exercise helps you relieve pain and stiffness in your body while simultaneously strengthening your shoulders, glutes and hamstrings. Because it requires the engagement of your abdominal muscles, it can help you build strength and balance in both your core and back, which is essential for good posture.
The high plank can also encourage you to become more aware of your spinal position, which is again really beneficial for maintaining good posture.
How to do a high plank:
- Begin in a press-up position. Lift your heels up and push back, raise your hips, and straighten your arms.
- Lengthen the back of your neck, straighten your back, and engage your core.
- Keep your shoulders back, your chest open, and look down at the floor.
- Hold the position for up to a minute at a time (if you’re able to), while inhaling and exhaling.
To see how to perform standing forward fold, have a watch of the video below.
The benefits of yoga and pilates for core strength and spine health
Aside from doing specific posture exercises, you might want to think about trying yoga or pilates. Pilates is a form of low-impact exercise that strengthens and stabilises your core while improving your posture, building lean muscle, and expanding your range of motion and flexibility.
Yoga can also help you achieve and maintain good posture. Both yoga and pilates depend on good alignment, and you might notice that people who regularly practice either yoga or pilates tend to have excellent posture.
Whether you decide to give yoga or pilates a try or prefer to just practice individual posture exercises and stretches, remember to take it easy and go gently. Never force your body to do any stretches that feel painful.
“Correcting your posture may feel awkward at first because your body has become so used to sitting and standing in a particular way,” says physiotherapist Nick Sinfield. “But with a bit of practise, good posture will become second nature.”
Having good posture is more important than many of us realise. Not only can it reduce back and neck pain, and improve circulation and digestion, but it can reduce headaches and improve the health of your spine. Good posture is also essential for protecting your joints and muscles – something that becomes increasingly important as we get older.
While most people can’t improve their posture overnight, there are many exercises you can try that will increase your awareness of your spine and how you’re aligned, improve your core strength, and slowly help you to achieve and maintain good posture in the years to come.
Are you working on improving your posture? Or do you have any other exercise tips that can help maintain good posture that you’d like to share? Join the health conversation on the community forum, or leave a comment below.