Standing upright may not be as beneficial as we thought

From a young age we are taught to stand up straight. Many of us probably even have memories of walking around the house with a book on our head to improve our posture (I certainly do).

But why is it important to do this at all? What exactly does “good posture” mean for your health?

It may be a bit aesthetically pleasing—we’re taught to look like models with perfect posture—and it does have some scientifically proven benefits. But based on years of posture reminders and even posture checks in school, there’s probably less benefit than you thought.

Here, experts weigh in on posture and whether good posture is actually good for your health or total nonsense

What is good posture?

According to Dr. Scott Mallozzi, a spine surgeon at UConn Health, it is considered good posture if your head is centered over your pelvis and feet. Your neck and head should not be sloping forward or backward ― instead, you should Make sure you stand upright, with your head, pelvis and feet in alignment.

That said, one position isn’t right for everyone, added Dr. Mark Queralt, medical director of the Musculoskeletal Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. For conditions like arthritis of the spine, some people find it easier to sit hunched over, especially older individuals..

“If that person were to sit up all day and arch their back, it would be painful,” Queralt said. So what is good posture for one person may not be possible for another.

And when it comes to our bodies, Age-related change is part of life, Queralt explained. It’s natural for your spine to evolve and require different postures throughout your life.

“What do you think your spine is going to look like when you’re 60? Would you expect it to look like it does when you’re 30 or would you expect changes?” Queralt asked. GGood posture can change, and that’s completely normal.

Is standing upright good for our health?

The answer to this varies.

Dr. Amit Jain, chief of minimally invasive spine surgery in the Johns Hopkins Medicine department of orthopedic surgery, noted that “good posture results in less wear and tear on the spine.” According to the National Institutes of Health, slouching can make your spine more fragile and susceptible to injury.

While good posture doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t develop back problems one day, good spinal strength can help you better manage these conditions if you do develop them in the future, Mallozzi added. Your muscles have to work harder if your posture results in uneven weight distribution or unfair stress on your body.

For example, people who lean their necks to look at their phones or other portable devices often suffer from “text neck,” which puts extra strain on the body.

Ciara Cappo, a chiropractor in California, told Healthline that “the human head weighs 10 pounds. For every inch that your head is tilted forward, the weight your neck has to support doubles.” So that hunched posture while texting definitely isn’t doing your neck muscles any favors.

But standing up straight may not solve any health problems. It also won’t necessarily save you from existing back problems.

“E“There is little to no evidence to support posture and reduction of current pain or prevention of future pain,” Queralt said.

Queralt even pointed to a study that found that “the practice of common health messages to sit upright to prevent neck pain should be reconsidered,” and found that a slouched posture in teens resulted in less neck pain at a young age.

Open image model

Not only is it important to focus on pushing your shoulders back to create a straight back, but it’s also important to prioritize exercises that increase strength in your back.

Shouldn’t I then attach value to a ‘good attitude’?

Instead of constantly reminding yourself to stand up straight, focus on strengthening specific muscle groups. By training, you can help these muscles better support your spine and help your body stand up comfortably without forcing it or making you feel uncomfortable.

“There are two muscle groups that work well to help you with your posture,” Mallozzi said. The first group is your paraspinal muscles, the muscles that surround your spine from your neck to your lower back. IIf you have a strong muscle group around your spine, your discs and joints will have to do less work because they will be better supported, he said. The other muscle group that is important to work is your core, which will further support your back.

You can train these muscle groups by doing yoga, Pilates, or general strength exercises such as planks, crunches, bridges, and shoulder blade squeezes.

“These exercises really help people develop the muscle mass needed for good posture,” Mallozzi says.

He added that some factors that affect posture can’t be corrected with exercise. Problems like arthritis or hip stiffness won’t just go away, but if you prioritize strength training early in life, you’ll be better set up for success.The more you have [of] “The better your foundation is to start with, the more you can compensate if you develop other problems,” Mallozzi said.

Plus, by strengthening your spine you’ll reap the many benefits of exercise. “We know that exercise is good for cardiovascular health. It is good for preventing osteoporosis and people who exercise generally have better mental health scores,” Queralt said.

In short, good posture is not a miracle cure and the pressure you feel to stand up straight is probably unwarranted.

Instead of just focusing on standing or sitting upright, it’s more important to incorporate a variety of movements into your day.

“We think the fluidity of not sitting in the same static motion or standing all day” is important, Queralt says.

It doesn’t really matter whether you sit upright in these positions or slump in them, sitting in one static position for eight hours a day isn’t ideal, he added. For example, sitting in front of your laptop all day will make your muscles tight, and you’ll likely be hunched over with your neck forward while doing so.

Jain recommends taking regular breaks while working or adding a standing desk to your home workspace.

Ultimately, sitting or standing up straight may feel good for you, but it doesn’t for everyone—and that’s okay. Good posture has controversial benefits, including pain relief and less stress on surrounding muscles, but the pressure people get from family members about their posture is probably a bit overblown.

Just because you were hunched over in high school doesn’t mean you’ll have a hunched back for the rest of your life. But by prioritizing good muscle strength through fitness and exercise, you can help alleviate the pressure that’s put on your spine every day.

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