Having good posture is essential for good health, but understanding what good posture is and maintaining it can be hard.
"When some people try to work on their posture, they tend to overdo it," said Alynn Kakuk, physical therapist at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. "They get into a super-extended position with their shoulders way back — enough that it creates too much of an arch on their back. So, they just start shifting their weight too far back."
Bad posture habits can cause unbalanced body alignment, strain on ligaments and muscles, chronic pain, injuries, impingement, low back pain, neck pain, hip pain, joint stiffness and muscle tightness, Kakuk said.
On the other hand, maintaining good posture can help you walk, sit, stand and lie in positions that cause the least pressure on your muscles and ligaments during movement and weight-bearing actions. It also gives confidence.
"People who have better posture tend to appear more confident and knowledgeable to others," Kakuk said. "It makes them feel confident internally, as well."
Modern lifestyle factors, such as texting or spending hours hunched over a keyboard, only make things worse. These movements can place stress on your upper back and neck, resulting in rounded shoulders and forward head. This can cause chronic upper back, shoulder, neck pain and headaches.
But there are ways to minimize the strain.
When texting or looking at something on your cellphone, hold it at eye level, so you're not bending forward.
When using a computer, keep the keyboard at elbow height so your hands can rest on the desk, and raise the screen to eye level. Set your chair at a height so that both feet touch the ground.
Also, be sure to get up from your desk and move around at least once every hour.
"Standing up and focusing on good posture for a few minutes can relieve muscle strain and improve breathing and circulation, which also helps improve attention and engagement," said Dr. Deborah J. Rhodes, physician and cancer researcher at Mayo Clinic.
Taking a stretch break also helps. Stand up against a wall, and make sure your upper back, shoulders and bottom touch the wall. Your feet don't have to be against the wall — just a couple of inches away from it. You should have a slight space in your lower back and be able to fit your hands in that space. But make sure it's not a big gap. Then, step away from the wall, and try to see if you can maintain that position. Be careful of overdoing it or hyperextending your back.
Strengthening your muscles will make it easier for you to maintain that posture over time. Do exercises that strengthen your upper back and shoulders, such as chest exercises to strengthen your pectoral muscles and diaphragmatic breathing techniques to release tension.
High heels pose another challenge to posture.
Walking in high heels is essentially walking on your toes, which results in a chain reaction on the rest of your body. It causes the knees to hyperextend, the pelvis to tip forward, the lower back to tighten and the abdominals to become weak.
Try to limit your time on high heels, but if you do wear them, pick a shorter heel with a wide surface area to better distribute your weight. To maintain the correct posture while wearing heels, draw in your abdominal muscles to prevent that extra curve in your low back.
One of the most effective things you can do is simply be aware of your posture throughout the day and catch yourself in bad habits before they get worse.