For hundreds of thousands of years, we’ve been perfecting the human body to allow us the freedom to do just about anything we can imagine. The result of our ancestors surviving, thriving, and, most importantly, moving, in the many environments and challenges they faced is what we recognize as good posture today. With our highly adapted design come many benefits of good posture.
Good posture has to do with more than just standing or sitting in an upright position. It includes the integrity of the body and its parts through movement — walking, running, swimming, golfing, playing pickleball, and so on. Along with improving performance and preventing injuries, did you know the benefits of good posture include internal organ function as well?
Yes, the benefits of good posture that impact our overall health and well-being are ingrained with our human design. With the development of labor-saving technologies, we no longer rely on physical movement as our ancestors did. (Grab your smartphone or tell your home voice assistant to order pizza, get a ride, play a movie, or call a friend.) The lack of movement combined with increased sitting has resulted in deconditioning of the body and poor posture.
The good news is that you don’t have to wrestle (or try to outrun) a saber-toothed tiger to get better posture. You can tap into the many benefits of proper alignment by adopting some healthy behaviors and reminding your body how it is designed to work.
Keep reading to learn about the benefits of good posture and what you can do to maintain it.
What is Good Posture?
When someone mentions good posture, people tend to think of the upright position of standing or sitting. These static postures are important, however, a more inclusive definition of posture includes dynamic poses as well. When you bend over to pick something up, squat, walk, run, jump, and exercise, you are moving through various postures. All of these movements require your postural muscles to do their job of keeping your body intact to perform the task at hand and prevent injury.
One major aspect of good posture is maintaining a neutral spine, also referred to as the S-curve. This involves observing the natural curves of your lower back, mid-back, and neck primarily in standing. If your sitting posture includes slumping for hours, muscle strain and stretched ligaments transfer to your standing posture. This can lead to many symptoms like lumbar pain, hip pain, knee pain, upper back, or neck pain.
Since nerves travel out of the spine to the body, misalignments can affect movement and internal organ functioning as well as the musculoskeletal system.
Good standing posture generally includes the following:
- Alignment of the ear, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle in a straight line in the side views (not having to force it)
- The spine has a gentle S-curve in the side views
- Alignment of the feet and knees pointing straight ahead in the front view
- A straight vertical line through the ankles, knees, and hips in the front view (right & left)
- The hips and shoulders should be level
- Alignment of the spine and trunk in a vertical line in the front and back views
- The weight should be evenly distributed in your feet
Wall Posture Test
One way to test whether you have good posture while standing is by doing the “wall test.” With no shoes, stand with your back against a wall with your heels touching. Your head, shoulder blades, and your buttocks should all be touching the wall with little to no effort. (Don’t force them if you experience pain).
In your lower back, you should be able to slide your hand between your lumbar spine (just above your hips) and the wall without too much extra space. If there is extra space, try drawing your belly button in to see if you’re able to flatten it (but don’t bend your knees to do it).
Or, if there’s too little space and your hand can’t slide in, try to slightly arch your back to create enough space. Feel what you had to do in your body to create the arch.
Test whether you can keep this proper posture by stepping away from the wall, then step back to the wall and see how you align. If you have trouble keeping this position, your posture needs some work. With some simple exercises, you'll be able to improve it!
And while this is a good test, keep in mind that you should not have to “hold” your posture throughout the day. Good posture should be natural with your body being balanced. Our ancestors didn’t tell the saber-tooth, “Hold on a sec, let me engage my core!” The same goes whether you’re an athlete or not, good posture means your body is ready to go.
Benefits of Good Posture
Having good posture can affect many aspects of your life for the better. From muscle, joint, and skeletal health to your confidence level and mood, your alignment impacts your wellness and quality of life.
The benefits of good posture we’ve listed here are available to everyone, including you. By making your posture something you incorporate into your lifestyle, you’ll be able to tap into the positive effects.
1. Reduced Back Pain
This is probably the most well-known benefit of good posture. There are numerous other problems that can cause back pain, but bad posture can make all of those problems worse. Slouching in the same position, while standing or sitting, causes stress to your lower back. Leaning too far back can also negatively impact your back.
Even if you do have good posture when you sit, if you sit for long periods of time a day, it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually lose your form. To avoid this, break up your day by standing up every 30 to 45 minutes to give your body a chance to readjust. Doing a few posture correction exercises or stretches can help tremendously as well.
Of course, what’s good for the back is good for other areas of your body as well. Good posture can help you decrease risk of strain and sprain injuries in your back and other areas.
2. Better Breathing and Circulation
Research shows that slouching can negatively affect your breathing. (See below for the Sitting Breath Test to feel for yourself!) Rounding your upper back compresses your lungs and limits your diaphragm from moving properly. When you slouch, the muscles on the front of your body shorten and prevent deep breaths.
All of your muscles help blood flow by acting as pumps when you move. If you’re sedentary or stuck in areas of your posture, then circulation can be lessened. For example, varicose veins or spider veins occur often with people who stand in one place for hours on a regular basis.
When you sit or stand upright, you give your lungs more room to fully expand and allow more oxygen to enter your body with every breath. Keep your chest up and shoulders back, and you’ll feel the difference immediately.
Do this sitting test for yourself to feel how your diaphragm and breathing can be affected.
Sitting Breathing Test
- Sit in a slouched posture, letting your back round, and try to take in a deep breath. Pretty tough right?
- Now sit tall in an upright position and breath in while allowing your abdominal muscles to relax.
You should feel how much easier it is to breathe in an extended, better posture!
3. Look Taller and Slimmer
Looking taller may not necessarily be a direct health benefit, but knowing that you look taller can make you feel better. Positive self-image is an important part of our psychology.
Maintaining good posture also causes you to appear taller and healthier to others around you. This can be important for going into social settings, an interview, or a date.
Standing upright can also make your body appear longer and leaner. We commonly see clients that lose excess lymph around their body by improving circulation and movement. Yes, some of those hard-to-get spots around the waist, hips, etc., can be from immobility in areas of your body.
4. More Energy
Did you know that slouching actually takes up a lot of your energy and raises stress levels? When you slouch, your muscles have to work harder, your organs are compressed, and your breathing is shallow. Although slouching may seem natural for some, it’s actually an unnatural position for your body. Your body is meant to rest in the neutral position (S-curve) for your spine, where your head, torso, and pelvis are aligned.
With good posture, your muscles work more efficiently, your breathing and circulation are better, and you’ll have way more energy. Taking the added stress off of your body boosts energy levels going into activities, such as your workout or playing with your kids.
5. Relief to Other Body Parts
When you slouch, it’s not just your lower back that’s negatively affected. Rounding your upper body strains your shoulders and neck as your head moves forward. Tension headaches can occur with excess strain and decreased circulation.
Your hips are also affected by bad posture. Tight psoas muscles with today’s sitting culture are all too common. In addition, sitting in an uneven position or where one hip is more elevated than the other can lead to hip strain and more problems as you age. (Do you tend to tuck one foot under your hip or cross the same leg habitually?)
Waking up your postural muscles regularly (i.e., at least daily) means restoring proper balance up and down your body. Stability and mobility are needed in adequate amounts throughout the body’s joints. With the right posture exercise program specific to your body, you can help restore this balance to lessen tension in your shoulders and neck, along with other areas.
6. Longevity of Joints
Your joints are likely to experience a lot of wear and tear throughout your life. However, you can avoid speeding up this wear and help your joints heal properly by having good posture. When your body is misaligned, joint surfaces can wear unevenly and break down faster.
After seeing thousands of postures of people with pain, it becomes easy to see where imbalances have led to specific joint pain. Most arthritic hips or knees, for example, are due to imbalances between the right and left sides of the body. Clients will tell us that long before the damage occurred in the joint that they always used that side more than the other. No wonder!
The interesting thing with many of these clients, however, is that they have areas where the joints are in great condition. So, why are some joints breaking down and some ready for more? Aren’t they all the same age? You can preserve your joints and in many cases achieve greater function as you age by getting better aligned.
The surfaces of your joints are perfectly designed with ligaments and muscles to guide smooth motion. When you have good posture, you can decrease risk of abnormal wearing of the joint surfaces. And, with a whole-body approach, you can keep posture dysfunction in one area of your body from causing damage to other joints.
7. Better Digestion
When you slouch, you aren’t only compressing your lungs and diaphragm. You’re also compressing many of your vital digestive organs--from your esophagus traveling down to your stomach, large and small intestines, and down to the rectum. The reduced amount of space in your abdomen can show up as heartburn, constipation, or poor digestion.
Good posture, especially when accompanied by the movements needed to achieve it, allows for the space and orientation needed for good digestion. Many of our clients who experience mobility in their pelvis for the first time in years ask with a shy smile, “Is this supposed to affect my bowel movements?” The answer is YES! of course.
8. Improved Core Strength
With good posture, your core muscles engage to generate strength as needed to move your body or hold it steady. If you’re holding muscles contracted all of the time, you lose the ability for muscles to sequence on and off as they are supposed to for fluid movement. With poor posture, we see areas of the body getting locked long or short, preventing movement.
For athletes or anyone working out, these posture dysfunctions result in power leaks where the body is not working as a unit when it comes to performance. These sticking points in posture can also become weak links in the core’s chain leaving you more susceptible to injury.
Maintaining a functional, posturally strong core can lead to better endurance and less fatigue during performance. Having a strong core also makes everyday tasks easier, from reaching the top shelf of a cabinet to bending over to tie your shoe. When taking a whole-body approach, the best way you can keep your core strong is by maintaining good posture.
9. Better Workout Performance
Having good posture is crucial to having a safe and effective workout. Going into your workouts with good posture means that your muscles are being properly engaged for the movement you are doing. If you’re working out with a crooked foundation, then you’ll only be building a crooked structure on top of it.
Imagine going into squats, box jumps, a sprint workout, or cycling a century (100 miles) with an elevated hip. The pelvis serves as the foundation for your spine, so loading up is going to put uneven strain in your back muscles and spine. Your powerful hip and leg muscles rely on a level pelvis for balanced work between the right and left sides. With a hip hike going into your activities, performance is going to suffer while relying more on one side than the other.
And the best time to set yourself up with good posture? BEFORE your workout. If, like so many, you try to fix your posture while putting heavy demands on your body, you’re likely to work around your posture dysfunctions. This process forces your body to create compensation patterns and leads to injury down the road.
If your body is used to keeping good posture daily, then it will be easier to maintain good posture during your workout and prevent injury. Whether you’re doing bodyweight exercises or lifting weights, making sure your alignment and function will help you perform at your best.
10. Prevent Jaw Pain
Bad posture affects your head and your shoulders, which also affects your jaw. Upper back rounding and spine flexion cause forward head and affect your temporomandibular joints. These joints connect your jawbone to your skull and are needed to open and close your mouth (kind of important for chewing food).
When the natural curves of the spine supporting the head are out of alignment, you can experience stress and tension which may lead to TMJ. TMJ is a disorder that causes pain in the jaw muscles and can prevent opening the mouth.
With good posture, the stress in your jaw is minimized and you are therefore less susceptible to jaw pain. With many of our clients who experience TMJ, they usually have headaches, tinnitus, vertigo, neck pain, or some combination of these. As they correct their posture, they’ll notice that they all get better together as well.
11. Prevent Headaches
Headaches are often caused by tension related to your neck, shoulders, and upper back muscles. Slouching rounds the back and puts the head in front of the body, creating more neck strain and descreasing circulation. If you notice that you experience headaches when these areas are under tension, your posture may be to blame.
Try to pay closer attention to your posture throughout the day. You can sit and stand in ways that don’t stress these areas in order to relieve tension and, consequently, your headache. One common theme for headaches we see with clients is a lack of diaphragmatic breathing. When you’re hunched forward or stressed, you probably are not breathing properly to pump blood and oxygenate your cells.
Do the standing wall test and sitting breath tests to check in with how your posture is holding up through the day. Place one hand on your belly when you breathe in. You should feel your abdomen expand versus your shoulders raise.
12. Boost Confidence and Mood
When you practice good posture, not only will you appear more confident to those around you, but you’ll actually end up more confident! Good posture is associated with confidence, happiness, good self-esteem, and an overall positive attitude. A study showed that when your posture is good, you even become more confident in your own thoughts.
As more mind-body research is showing, our physical posture affect how we feel about ourselves as well as how others perceive us. Amy Cuddy talks about how our posture and mood work together in her Ted Talk and book Presence. She describes how using “power poses” (such as the Wonder Woman stance) help change our biochemistry for the better.
Over the many years of working with clients, the change in how people behave, communicate, and interact is remarkable. While most come in with pain, it was easy to attribute their becoming pain-free as the reason for this change. However, as more research is proving, good posture has a tremendous effect on confidence and mood.
How to Maintain Good Posture
If you’re struggling to achieve good posture, it’s never too late to take steps to fix it. (We have 90-plus year-olds making big changes!) Your body is adaptable and good posture is our human design so your body wants to get there.
The first step is being mindful of your posture. Pay attention to the way you sit and stand throughout the day. Are you able to stay in an upright position? Are your shoulders relaxed or up in your ears? Are you able to take a deep breath? Do you feel confident? Have a posture assessment on your body to know how you line up currently.
Here are some tips for maintaining good posture:
Good posture comes from using your body. Exercises that challenge your body and remind the muscles and joints to work properly is important. Yoga is a great way of getting varied movement to wake up your body, whereas exercise that keeps you in the same position is not. (For example, cycling might be great for cardio and leg strength, but is not great for your spine or overall posture). Many of our clients do individual posture therapy in conjunction with their workouts to ensure that they’re set up with good posture.
Your breathing is something that you can control voluntarily. If you can periodically check-in with your breath, including where you’re breathing from, this can help. Try practicing deep breaths while sitting up tall or while standing with your back to the wall. Place your hand on your belly to feel whether you are pulling your breath down into your diaphragm (which will push your tummy out).
Stand Tall (Like a Superhero)
As mentioned above, you can assume a superhero pose (think Wonder Woman, Superman, or your favorite) with hands on hips standing tall. Holding this pose for two minutes can help you feel more confident, appear more dominant to others, increase testosterone, decrease cortisol, be more risk-taking, and experience many more benefits.
While the superhero pose can help in many ways, have you thought about how your feet work to support you? When you stand, take a look down at your feet. Which directions do they point? Most likely, they point outward instead of straight ahead.
Try pointing your feet parallel and straight ahead. How does that feel? If it’s tight or uncomfortable, take note that you could use some posture correction exercises to help instead of forcing it. We’ll walk clients through this and many are surprised at how difficult it is for them to do!
Our feet should point straight ahead naturally, without having to force it. Over time with the right posture program, you should feel comfortable standing and walking with your toes pointing forward.
Stretching can help move your body and increase circulation. If you spend a large portion of your day sitting at a desk or stuck in one position, major muscles (like your psoas) are going to be shortened. You can remind the muscles how they’re supposed to lengthen through some easy stretching.
Stretching every day will help loosen the muscles. Try to set reminders at numerous points in the day to do some light stretching, even if it just means standing up from your desk to stretch your legs. Always stretch before and after a workout to prevent injury and help develop proper form. Stretching can also improve range of motion and decrease back pain, which are both issues that can be caused by bad posture.
*Keep in mind when it comes to stretching is that all stretches are not created equal. And while general stretching can be good for most people, others need more specific recommendations. This can be due to pre-existing conditions, pain, or individual postural differences. Remember to not force a stretch if it doesn’t feel good.
Switch up your workstation
If you’re spending 8-plus hours a day at your desk, you should make it as ergonomic as possible. You can invest in special office equipment, such as an ergonomic office chair and a standing desk, but there are also other ways to set up your workstation to encourage good posture.
- Adjust your chair height so that your feet rest flat on the floor and your knees and hips are level. You should be able to rest your elbows at 90-degrees on your armrests with your shoulders relaxed. If your chair can’t be positioned in a way in which your feet lay flat on the ground, add a footrest.
- Keep the objects you need to use often close to you to minimize reaching and don’t strain your body to reach something that is further than an arm’s length away. Stand up.
- Keep your monitor directly in front of you and your keyboard and make sure it’s at eye level.
Pay attention to how you lie down
Pay attention to how you position yourself while lying down to avoid bad posture and backache. Avoid lying down with your neck bent upwards on a pillow. Although it may feel comfortable, this position puts too much stress on your back and shoulder.
- Sleep in a position that maintains the natural curve of your spine
- Invest in a quality, firm mattress
Avoid “Text Neck”
When you look down at your smartphone, tablet, or computer, it really puts a strain on your neck. Many people do this for hours a day, so you can imagine how that could negatively affect your posture long term. Set up or bring your device to eye level when checking messages and working.
The benefits of good posture go well beyond our short list here. There are many options for you to work on your posture on your own or with a professional. The most important takeaway I hope you get from this is that you are not stuck with bad posture!
You can achieve better posture by implementing some simple changes in your habits and routines. Programs like Activ8 Posture where our focus is individual posture therapy can help get you on the right track to overcome pain or limitations. Beyond that, we also provide guidance to keep you in line as part of your healthy lifestyle in your activities.
We’d love to hear from you and get to know how we can help you achieve the healthy lifestyle you’re looking for.