How many times have you sunk down on the sofa while watching TV? Or worse, how often do you remember to sit up straight as you stab at your keyboard? If you are like me, you only remember to adjust your sitting position occasionally, and that is bad for your health.
The fact that we are bipeds means that our spine is subject to a lot of stress and strains. One of these is the force of gravity which keeps us on the planet but also tends to compress spinal discs, leading to chronic pain and muscle spasms. That is why some people use inversion therapy.
Gravity is mainly good for our bones and muscles, but it does tend to be an obstacle when we are carrying a backpack or pushing a bike uphill. That’s nothing when you talk to any astronaut who will tell you that the force of gravity can cause many problems when they get back to earth.
So, let’s not blame gravity for all our aches and pains. I always thank gravity when I go downstairs and curse it on the way up! Inversion therapy can be rather expensive, so let’s look at how sitting up straight can really benefit our health. It does not cost anything and you will never need to venture into space!
You can breathe better
If you are leaning forward to see that computer screen or are slouching, then it is pretty obvious that proper breathing cannot take place. It is blocking the airways and that is interfering with oxygen getting to the nervous system and organs, impacting how they work. It can make as much as 30 percent difference.
Here is a bonus tip. If you are going for your dream job interview, try this trick. Take some deep belly breaths to help you relax the throat muscles and give you a deeper voice. Studies show that people with deeper voices are on the fast track for leadership posts.
You will have more energy and optimism
Dr. Erik Peper, professor of holistic health from the San Francisco State University, has conducted research on how posture can affect mood, give you more energy, and even lift depression. He measured levels of optimism, energy, and mood on students who were asked to slouch down or skip down a hallway. Those who skipped had higher energy levels and less depression than those who had slouched. The same goes for our sitting position, as confirmed by a University of Auckland study.
Your concentration levels will get a boost
Did you know that your brain needs 100 billion neurons just to keep things ticking over? It also needs about 20% of our oxygen supply to keep it in top condition. The more oxygen we supply it from proper breathing by sitting up straight, the more we will be able to concentrate and focus better.
“Relaxed, straight sitting expands your chest, allowing you to take in a larger breath… and you’ll have more energy and focus.” — Dr. Golubic, medical director of Center for Lifestyle Medicine at Cleveland Clinic.
Your confidence will soar
When you enter a room, your posture says a lot about you. If you stand straight, you exude confidence and feel more self-assured. When you sit at meetings, your posture also sends a message. Assertive poses are known as power poses.
Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, gave a TED talk on this, which you can view here. The interesting thing is that even if you change your pose, you can gain poise! Two minutes can do the trick because that is sometimes sufficient to change levels of the cortisol stress hormone.
No harm in remembering that our body language, whether standing or sitting, is sending out signals to ourselves and others about our thoughts, attitudes, and emotions. Faking it till we make it at job interviews can actually work, according to Cuddy’s research.
Your back will thank you
Who doesn’t have back pain every now and then? And what about shoulder, neck, and wrist pain? In many cases, poor posture when sitting down is the main cause, especially if we work using a computer.
Your desk may be too high or too low for you, meaning you are typing on an incline. Again, the computer screen may need adjusting so that it is at eye level. How we sit is crucial, because we should try to keep as upright as possible while pushing the hips back into the chair. This is very important in keeping the lower back’s arch or natural curve. Don’t cross your legs and try to keep feet flat on the floor. If your muscles are loose, you run the risk of putting too much stress on the tendons and ligaments. That can lead to repetitive strain injury (RSI).
Anthropologically, we were never meant to sit for long in freezing caves. Although we no longer need to hunt animals for food, we should get up and move around as often as we can, even if it is only for a few seconds.
If you cannot remember to do all this, why not get a posture sensor? You can wear it around your waist and let it take over your posture management. This one monitors your breathing as well! Every time you start to slouch, or your breathing is below par, the sensor will vibrate. Now, that’s much better than somebody telling you to “Sit up straight!”
Featured photo credit: Osmond Group Limited via Flickr via flickr.com