9 Surprising Ways Bad Posture Could Mess with Your Health
Good posture is about a lot more than looking good; it can also influence your mood, your digestion, and your risk for chronic pain. Stand (and sit!) straight, and your body will thank you—from head to toe.
There are two types of posture, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH): dynamic posture (your body position when moving) and static posture (your body position when sitting, standing, or sleeping). Good posture means that your head sits above your shoulders and your shoulders are over your hips, a position that maintains a neutral spine, the NIH notes.
Thanks, electronic devices
Our phones and tablets aren’t going away, but “the problem is that as we become more and more dependent on these devices, we are getting used to sitting or standing in a hunched-over position that contributes to poor posture,” says sports-medicine doctor and physical therapist Stacy Spivack, MD, at CareMount Medical in Mount Kisco, New York.
Bad posture triggers spasms
It’s hardly surprising—but worth a reminder—that if you sit while slouched over, which drives your head and neck forward, you may be left with “significant neck pain and spasms,” says Dr. Spivack. Correcting bad posture may offer a significant source of relief for the nine million Americans living with neck pain.
Bad posture makes it hurt to move
The body likes to be in alignment. But when you’re sitting and standing with poor posture day in and day out, your body gets used to it. It accepts it as the new normal—something that can spell trouble for you. “When your muscles become accustomed to being in a shortened position, it may hurt to move,” says Dr. Spivack.
Bad posture makes you weak
Even if you’re not feeling it, stand tall. In a small study on 33 people published in 2016 in the journal Biofeedback, people took turns standing erect or slouched. When they stood with better posture, they had greater arm strength during a strength test than when they stood in a saggy position.
Bad posture can contribute to rib pain
If your shoulders remain rounded for much of the day, your body will compensate. “The chest wall will become tight, causing rib and sternal [sternum] pain,” says Dr. Spivack. Rib pain can also be a sign that something else is going on—including shingles or costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage between the ribs).
Bad posture brings you down
A droopy body leads to a droopy mindset. In a small study by researchers at San Francisco State University, published in the journal Neuroregulation, college students who sat slouched had a tougher time thinking positive thoughts; sitting straight, on the other hand, helped them better access happier memories. The lesson? Instead of letting the day get you down, sit up and see how you feel.
Bad posture exacerbates arthritis
If you’re suffering from arthritic changes in your shoulders, hips, or spine, poor posture will only worsen the pain, says Dr. Spivack. Plus, if you’re dealing with arthritis in your neck, the head-forward position can pinch a nerve, resulting in tingling that radiates down your arm, she says.
Bad posture makes you tired
People who have mild to moderate depression are more likely to sit in a hunched position than those without mood disorders, a study in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry suggests. Those who improved their posture by sitting upright, however, experienced more positive emotions and less fatigue than the members of a group who didn’t adjust their bad posture.
Bad posture is hard on your lungs
Feeling as if you’re not breathing easy these days? When researchers compared people who use their smartphones for less than four hours a day with those who used their phones for more than four hours a day, they found that phone addicts had worse posture, which may compress the lungs and compromise respiratory function, according to a 2016 study.
Bad posture damages digestion
If you’ve ever been saddled with stomach symptoms, check your slouch. Sitting slumped after eating puts pressure on the abdomen that can trigger acid reflux and heartburn, according to the experts at the Harvard Health Letter. It may also stymie digestion and even worsen constipation.
Yes, you’ll need to straighten out, but first, one powerful habit that combats bad posture is getting up more. “Avoid sitting in one position for a prolonged period of time,” says Dr. Spivack. She suggests standing every 30 minutes for at minimum a few minutes at a time. If you need a reminder so that you don’t get lost in work to-dos, set a timer.