We can all just admit it — most of us can improve our posture.
Whether it’s sitting at a desk all day or keeping your head down glued to a phone, experts have been warning Canadians to keep an eye on their posture for years.
Lori Ann Vallis, an associate professor at the University of Guelph’s department of human health and nutritional sciences, told Global News most people still don’t understand what “good” posture is.
“I would say that good posture is when your body’s centre of mass (the sum of all of the body segment masses, located around the level of the belly button for men and a little lower in the hips for women) is aligned over the base of support,” she said.
She said when the centre of mass and base of support are aligned, your skeleton and muscles can work more effectively to keep you stable and upright. This also means when you move, it is pain free.
“Good posture can also make you more stable, which translates to fewer falls and can even help with breathing and optimal cardiovascular functioning,” she said.
Alison Beaton, a physiotherapist and owner of Scotia Physiotherapy in Halifax, said that in other words, good posture means your tissues, bones, ligaments and muscles are comfortable, rather than being stretched or compressed.
Accepting ‘bad’ posture
While understanding what good posture can seem straightforward, experts say the majority of us have just accepted we have “bad” posture. Many of us slouch at our desks, avoid stretching our backs and, for the most part, are unaware of what so-called good posture looks like.
Vallis thinks this is due to a general lack of understanding of human anatomy and good body mechanics.
Andrea Lebel, a registered physiotherapist based in Ottawa, said the importance of having good posture is not taught in school either.
“If posture training does not start at a young age and is not reinforced throughout life, it is difficult to change poor habits later on,” she told Global News.
“Sadly, people are very busy these days and have other priorities. Unless they are experiencing pain or have a spinal deformity that is affecting their daily lives, most people will not do anything to change their posture.
“The prevention of medical conditions is often delayed until it becomes a problem.”
Another reason is that people may think it’s too complicated or too late to change their body mechanics.
“This is not the case,” Vallis said. “You can make simple steps toward better posture just by adding some simple stretching into your daily routine.”
Many of us also live in a rushed or structured environment — the thought of taking a break to stretch isn’t a priority.
“There needs to be a culture shift in office environments and the workplace where stretch and rest breaks are encouraged or enforced by employers,” she said. “This would pay off in the long run as there would be fewer workplace, repetitive or cumulative stress injuries.”
And experts agree that Canadians in general are more sedentary than ever. Most of us sit at work, through our commutes and as soon as we home.
“This lifestyle shift is relatively new in our society,” she explained. “I am a huge advocate for the development of better habits related to reduced screen time, more sleep and more physical activity.”
Mistakes Canadians still make
Lebel added that when it comes to posture, there are some mistakes Canadians continue to make, like pulling their shoulders back and sticking their chests out.
“There are even devices being sold that do this for you,” she said. “Pulling your shoulders back facilitates the forward head position and loss of the natural curvatures of the spine. There are a few cases where pulling your shoulders back is beneficial, but not past the ear lobes.”
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She said her clinic sees people, even children, with hunched backs and loss of lumbar lordosis (the natural curve of the lower back).
“I believe that the excessive use of cell phones and tablets is a major contributing factor in our society,” she said. “Also, more and more jobs these days involve sitting at computers, which also causes this hunched over posture and forward head position.”
Tips for a stronger posture in 60 days
While it is impossible to “fix” someone’s posture completely in a set number of days, it is important to start recognizing common pitfalls people make. Setting a goal, for 60 days, for example, can benefit you in the long run.
For starters, Beaton recommends moving as much as you can.
READ MORE: 5 things that cause back pain and easy posture exercises to fix it
She said to let each red light or stop sign be a reminder to correct your posture and drink lots of water so you have to get up frequently.
Beaton also recommends a wellness check.
“See a physiotherapist for a posture assessment and movement screen before you have pain. Be pro-active rather than reactive.”
Vallis said to be more mindful about your posture throughout the day.
“Personally, I am trying to be more aware of my body alignment when I am doing some of the more boring tasks I do all the time at home, when my mind is not focused on other things,” she explained.
“For example, when doing the dishes — which is a bit of a mindless task — I think about how I am standing: Is my weight evenly distributed between my feet? Am I sticking my hip out? Are my shoulders up around my ears or relaxed? Where is my head/jaw? Am I holding tension in my neck?”
Posture check-ins can also be done when you brush your teeth, do the laundry or brings bags of groceries home.
Exercises like Pilates and yoga are other ways to be more mindful of your body position, as well as improve your cardiovascular health and overall balance.
Lebel advocates using a lumbar roll when you sit.
“This includes sitting at a desk, in the car, on the couch watching TV, or at the dinner table.”
Also when you need to pick up an item, stop bending forward at the waist.
She also wants to call out the texters.
If you spend a lot of time on your phone, make sure you are using it at eye level.