All it takes is a moment of hunching over and the resulting discomfort to understand how posture can impact how the body feels. It goes beyond the immediate musculoskeletal stiffness that may result from a brief activity. Good posture can impact your entire body, from pain levels to lung capacity, and even mental health.
Once you imagine the mechanics of the lungs, it’s surprising we don’t discuss more often how dramatically slouching can impact their function. Compression of the lungs can lead to labored breathing and a decrease in respiratory function. One study monitored people’s postures while using their cell phones and measured their respiratory function. The study revealed that those that slouched, hunched, and generally had poor posture also had decreased lung function and negatively impacted necessary respiratory biomechanics. During inspiration, the ribs elevate and then are depressed during expiration. Poor posture interferes with this and decreases respiration functions like peak flow, a measurement of airflow through the bronchi, reflecting our ability to breath out air.
Diminished lung capacity impacts every aspect of our body. When we breathe in less oxygen, our entire body strains to function with less oxygen, forcing our heart to work harder to pump oxygen throughout the body. This can lead to fatigue, shortness of breath, reduced endurance, and respiratory infections. If the heart is forced to work harder, long term it can ultimately lead to heart failure.
Much like lung capacity, the digestive system works best when it isn’t compressed or impacted. Consider that from start to finish, the total surface area of your intestines is about half the size of a badminton court (or around 15 feet)! Since foods are broken down and the resulting vitamins and nutrients absorbed into the bloodstream within the intestines, any posture-related compression can ultimately impact how efficiently that process works. Common digestive concerns related to posture are reflux and constipation. As simple as it may sound, sitting straight can help ease the symptoms and help keep your digestive system running smoothly.
It’s no surprise that after a long day of working at a desk, many people walk away with a headache. It may be partially attributed to staring at a screen too long. But, it’s also partially due to sitting too long with bad posture. Tension headaches, which may result with pressure, tightness, and dull, throbbing pain around the forehead or at the neck and back of the head, can often be helped by first addressing posture. Yoga and stretching can often help.
Have you ever been able to accurately gauge a loved one’s mood, just from their posture? When we think of body language, we often consider it in relation to communication with others, but it can also provide us insight as to how we’re feeling. Compare two of the popular Disney characters of Winnie the Pooh– it is easy to see how the emotional states of Eeyore and Tigger are reflected in their physical posture.
Take a guess who is feeling upbeat. Sources explain that your brain and body have two-way communication, meaning that your mood can impact your posture and your posture can affect your mood. When you’re happy, you may notice that you sit upright, and when you’re feeling down, you’re more likely to slouch or sit in a slumped position. Without a doubt, there are many reasons behind a person’s mood and emotional state. But, we can all benefit from the slight mood boost that results from straightening up and taking a few deep breaths.
Lower back pain
Sources share that as many as 25% of the population experiences lower back pain. Poor posture, often caused from sitting too long, is usually the culprit. Sitting with our bodies out of alignment can result in unnecessary pressure on our spines, discs, ligaments, muscles, and joints. Making sure we use chairs and position ourselves in ways that help us maintain good posture is one easy way to ease the discomfort and prevent back pain from developing. Read our post here, on how ergonomics and chair choices can make a difference.
Poor posture can make you feel fatigued due to reduced blood circulation and misalignment of bones and joints. Good blood circulation is necessary for oxygen and nutrients to reach your cells. When properly aligned, bones and joints support optimal muscle function, giving you more energy and supporting increased stamina. If you’re feeling in a slump, participating in some kind of exercise that helps you stretch and improve posture can help increase your energy. The movement helps oxygen and blood surge through your body and you will also benefit from the boost of endorphins that result from the exercise. Walking (keep those shoulders back and look straight ahead!), Yoga, or Tai Chi are a few low impact options.
It’s amazing how something so easy to correct can have such a widespread impact. Most of us never think about how we are sitting, standing, or walking. Yet it can have devastating effects. Being told to, “stand up straight” or to “stop slouching” could be some of the best advice we’ll hear to improve our health!