A preponderance of modern day workers spends the majority of their day in the seated position. Sitting has been called “the new smoking” due to the myriad of ill health effects associated with a sedentary lifestyle. It may seem obvious that prolonged sitting, especially with poor posture, can lead to musculoskeletal ailments – like neck pain, lower back pain, headaches or carpal tunnel syndrome, just to name a few. What may be more surprising is that researchers have found that prolonged sitting actually increases the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes, respiratory disorders, poor circulation and even various types of cancer.
Sedentary behaviors have also been linked to higher levels of depression. People who sit in front of a computer for five hours or more per day have been shown to have an increased risk of developing depression, insomnia and mental illness.
The brunt of poor posture is felt by the spine. The spine houses and protects the spinal cord, the central nervous system, which is the chief operating officer of your body. Nerves that exit the spine go to ALL body parts, and ultimately control and coordinate movement as well as all bodily functions.
Good posture means using your 640 muscles to balance 206 bones while not pinching any of the 45 miles of nerves that course through your body
While poor posture can make you sick, reinforcing good posture habits will help keep you healthy. Being mindful of your posture and taking frequent posture breaks result in better health, less pain, more focused attention, greater productivity and less fatigue!
5 Habits that will Improve your Posture
1. Sit Up Straight
When sitting your spine should have an “S” shaped curve, not a slouched “C” shape. If your spine rounds forward to a “C” shape, focus on sitting up straight. If it is an effort to sit upright and you feel fatigued maintaining this posture, try placing a small cushion behind your lower back. This will help to support the lumbar (lower back) spine.
2. Take Frequent Posture Breaks
A posture break is designed to counteract the force of gravity on your spine and supporting muscles. To perform a “posture break”, bring your head back with your eyes pointed up to the ceiling, stick your chest out, and bring your shoulders and arms all the way back. This stretches the anti-gravity muscles and will help you have better seated posture. You can do this while sitting in your chair or standing up. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and do this every hour of your day. If you are at your desk for 8 hours, this will only amount to 4 minutes of your time. Set a posture reminder at your desk!
3. Strengthen Your Core
Your core is your body’s central pillar of strength. Core musculature supports your lower back and prevents injury when lifting or bending. A strong core is a supported spine; a weak core makes you more susceptible to back pain and injury. Concentrate on exercises that promote extension to counteract all the “flexion” of sitting. Exercises such as front and side planks work all regions of your core.
4. Sit on a Posture Cushion or an Exercise Ball
Sitting on a posture cushion that can be placed on your chair or using an exercise ball as a chair encourages “active” sitting. Because there is no spinal support from behind and the surface is somewhat unstable, you are forced to engage your core musculature to support your back and remain upright. It is nearly impossible to slouch while sitting on one of these and it will help build postural fitness.
5. Re-Design Your Workspace
Make sure your workspace will help support proper posture while sitting. Keep the items you use the most within an arm’s reach away. Rotating your spine or reaching forward repetitively can add additional stress to your lower back. Position your computer screen at eye level. If your computer is lower than eye level, you are forced to look down for prolonged periods of time and that is more likely to lead to a slouched posture with your neck and shoulders rolled forward.
Dr. Ruth Cohen is a chiropractor, certified ergonomist and posture expert, who has been helping patients attain optimal health for over 30 years. Her unique system specializes in balancing the spine and nervous system. Dr. Cohen has developed an innovative new approach to “Conquer Sitting Disease” and “Fight Digital Dementia”.and is an accomplished speaker to many groups. Find her at DrRuthCohen.com.