The Real Reason You Were To Sit Up Straight In School
If you are anything like me, you’ll have plenty of memories from your childhood of your parents and teachers telling you to “sit up straight!”
It was hard to see what all the fuss was about back then, but now I’m a little older and wiser, I realise that they really did have my best interests at heart.
Today we are going to be taking a look at why posture is one of the most important everyday habits we have to help maintain our spinal health.
What is posture?
The Oxford Dictionary defines posture as; “The position in which someone holds their body when standing or sitting.”
This is a great start, and far be it from me to contradict Oxford and their dictionary, but I think we can go deeper than this.
Whatever we do in life, we are doing it with either good or bad posture.
When we eat, sleep, walk, run and yes, even when we read blogs online. (Kudos to you if you just checked in with your posture).
The truth is, there is more to posture than just sitting and standing straight.
Stand Up Straight! (but not too straight)
The term “stand up straight” is actually something of a misnomer. You’ve no doubt seen a diagram of a healthy human spine, and you probably noticed that it’s not straight at all!
A healthy spine has a natural S shape to it which helps absorb the shocks and knocks we all experience throughout our day. It works a bit like the springs in your car’s suspension. Without this S shape, the intervertebral discs (think of them as little cushions) that sit between each vertebra would soon become too damaged to be effective.
So, when you hear someone say “good posture”, what they’re really saying is “neutral spine”, which means we have a nice and healthy S curve in our spine. All those knocks and shocks are being absorbed, and our postural muscles are all working together in harmony.
What a pain in the neck!
A straight spine can cause some serious problems. I know this from personal experience.
I used to suffer from severe muscular tension in my upper back and neck. It had caused me extreme pain, endless headaches, and many sleepless nights before I decided to seek out chiropractic care. I’m glad I did because as it turns out, my spine was looking more like a J than an S!
The 7 vertebrae that made up my neck, known as the cervical spine, were almost completely straight. This was most likely a direct result of my years of sitting at a desk, and not listening to my teachers and parents when I was younger.
This meant the bones in my neck could not absorb the shocks and knocks of daily life, and as a result, the surrounding muscles had tensed up to protect my neck. The cause of my sleepless nights, headaches and pain, was all because of my poor posture!
It’s a great example of how easily something as simple as sitting at a desk with poor posture can lead to serious health problems down the road.
The quality of life we have is often down to the little habits we do each day, and posture is no different.
How posture affects your body
You might think that my self-inflicted symptoms are a good enough reason to sit up and start paying attention to your posture, but I can give you many more. Some might even surprise you!
- Do you suffer from heartburn, digestive problems or constipation? Well, believe it or not, your posture could be playing a role in this!
- Poor posture can lead to a lack of flexibility. Our body operates on a kind of “use it or lose it” philosophy. When we sit or stand hunched over, our muscles and ligaments have a tendency to shorten and become tighter as they get used to this position. This not only increases your chances of feeling those aches and pains that so many people think are a natural part of getting older (they’re not!), but it will also put you at a much higher risk of injury via sprains and strains.
- Having poor posture can actually limit the amount of air we take into our lungs. When we hunch over, we are reducing the capacity of our lungs, and they take in less oxygen. This is mostly felt in the brain, where the reduced oxygen flow can trigger feelings of anxiety and even trigger panic attacks. When we take several slow and deep breaths, we restore normal oxygen flow to the brain, which will often help calm us down and even boost our mood and concentration.
- As mentioned previously, poor posture can cause headaches, chronic back and neck pain as a result of muscular tension.
- Poor posture can throw off our balance, increasing the chance of slips, trips and falls.
- Poor posture can fatigue your muscles. The muscles used in keeping us stood up straight are called the postural chain muscles. These extend from your Achilles tendon right the way up to up to the back of your skull. When you are stood with a neutral spine, these muscles are all working together in unison to keep you stood up straight and your spine aligned. Just a small shift in your posture can throw the whole chain off. Certain muscles will have to start working harder to keep you upright, while others that aren’t being recruited as much will begin to weaken over time.
- It can cause our spine to deteriorate more quickly by causing the vertebrae cushions between each bone to wear away. This can develop into a condition known as osteoporosis, for which there is no cure. In extreme cases bones can even fuse together and stop movement in the spine, which can be excruciatingly painful.
- Good posture can boost your confidence! Have you ever seen somebody walk into a room and you can just tell they are a confident person? It’s not your imagination, it’s their posture! Our posture is how we present ourselves to the world, and it can have a big impact on how we are perceived by others, and how we perceive ourselves.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but by now you should have a better idea of just how important our posture is to our overall health.
If you are concerned about your posture, or you would like to know more, the best person to talk to is your local UCA registered chiropractor. Having said that, I do have a few basic posture tips for you below.
- Get up and take a walk every 30 minutes or so
- Don’t cross your legs
- Keep your thighs parallel to the floor (Use a footrest if needed)
- Relax your shoulders and keep your elbows close to your body
- Make sure your lumbar (lower) spine is supported
- Stand up straight and tall
- Keep your shoulders back
- Pull your stomach in and engage your core muscles
- Put your weight mostly on the balls of your feet
- Keep your head level
- Let your arms hang down naturally at your sides
- Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart
- Bend your knees slightly
This is just a brief look at how to get through your day with good posture. Your local UCA registered chiropractor will have plenty more tips and advice for you.
You can find your local UCA registered chiropractor by clicking here.
Thank you for reading and remembering to sit up straight!