7 Ways To Improve Your Posture

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.

Chances are that right now you're reading this while slumped over a laptop or your phone. Am I right? Did you just straighten up a little?

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As you probably guessed, I'm not psychic — I'm just a human, and I'd say it's a pretty good bet that at any given moment, a ton of us are trying to get our faces a little closer to some kind of screen.

And as you've either heard, or intuited from your own aches and pains, all that tech isn't great for our posture. What you may not know is that bad posture isn't just an aesthetic problem — it could be harmful to your wellbeing.

"Poor posture can have far reaching effects on health. It can accelerate the formation of arthritis and disc disease," says Karen Erickson, a chiropractor and founder of Erickson Healing Arts in New York City. "[Slouching] can compress the respiratory system, limiting the ability of the rib cage and diaphragm to expand properly during respiration."

It may even have an impact on mood, research from Ohio State University indicates. In the study, students wrote more positively about their qualifications for a job while sitting upright than they did while hunched over.

"Most of us were taught that sitting up straight gives a good impression to other people," said Richard Petty, co-author of the study. "But it turns out that our posture can also affect how we think about ourselves. If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you're in." (They only looked at students without mental health disorders; the results may not apply to someone with depression or anxiety.)

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Scientifically speaking, good posture "is the correct alignment of body parts supported by the right amount of muscle tension against gravity," the American Chiropractic Association says. As for what that means in real life? We've got everything you need to know about how to actually (and comfortably) perfect your posture in the name of good health.

Stand up for yourself

We're going to start with the obvious one first. Yes, your mom was right — you should be standing up straight. Here's what that looks like IRL, according to the American Chiropractic Association: Keep your weight primarily on the balls of your feet, with your knees slightly bent, and your feet shoulder-width apart. Stand tall with your shoulders pushed back, stomach tucked in, and head level for the best posture.

At first you'll feel weird, like you're pushing out your chest too much. But it quickly starts to feel good. Standing up straight can alleviate aches and pains, which is addicting.

Sit like a pro

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If you're going to be standing up straight, you need to learn to sit up straight too. The most important thing to know: When sitting, your feet should be flat on the ground. There should be a small gap between the back of your knees and the seat, with your knees at or below hip level. Legs too short? Place those puppies on a foot rest, says the ACA.

And as much as possible, aim to keep your forearms and knees parallel to the floor.

Stop crossing your legs

Ugh, I know. Sitting down without crossing your legs — is there any greater torture? But the habit increases the stress on your muscles and joints, and throws your hips out of alignment to boot. Erickson insisted that keeping your feet planted on the floor is your best bet for maintaining and promoting good posture.

And you know, after I practiced it for a while — with a ton of slip-ups; why is it so hard to not cross your legs? — I could see Erickson's point. It's a lot easier to sit up straight when my legs aren't folded all over each other.

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Follow the 90/90 rule

When sitting, your thighs should form a 90-degree angle to your back, and your feet should form a 90-degree angle to the floor, Erickson says.

Remember to support your low- and mid-back with a backrest. If your chair is a bit iffy on the support scale, there are products that can help. As sitting upright becomes second nature, you can switch to a backless stool or exercise ball, which could strengthen your core as well as improve your posture.

Rethink your sleeping position

They took away my crossed legs. Then they came from my favorite sleeping position — face-down.

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Sleeping on your stomach is considered the worst position, according to Erickson, because it flattens the curve of the spine, putting pressure on the low back. Waking up with an achy back could make it harder to stand and sit upright throughout the day, causing even more problems with your posture.

Shift to your side or back, and use a pillow for extra support. Side sleepers can slide it between their legs, and back sleepers can prop it under their knees.

Hold your phone smarter

You've heard of tech neck. You've heard of kids growing horns because of their phones. (Oh — you hadn't. Sorry to break it to you...) Here's the simple way to avoid all the horrific things your tech is doing to your posture: Bring your screen — phone or laptop or tablet — up to meet your eyes. Never tilt your head down to see the screen.

Another way to think of it is to imagine you're holding an orange under your chin, stopping you from bringing it too close to your chest.

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“When you hold your body in an abnormal position, it can increase stress on the muscles, cause fatigue, muscle spasms, and even stress headaches,” said Chris Cornett, M.D., orthopaedic surgeon and spine specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation, in a release about a study he conducted on tech neck. “With every degree of motion to the front or side that you move your head, the stress on your neck is magnified beyond just the weight of the head.”

If you need an assist, consider investing in a hands-free phone device or computer stand for your desk. They may look a little silly, but not as silly as a horn.

Remind yourself to move more

"Our bodies are designed to move, and movement plays a vital role in enabling them to function properly," says Scott Bautcha, a certified chiropractic sports physician and President of the ACA Council on Occupational Health. Bautch says it's important to adjust the position of your body as often as you can. Staying in one place for too long can put unnecessary stress on your body and back.

Try setting an alarm to remind yourself to get up once an hour for a quick walk or to shake out and stretch your limbs.

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