You Should Probably Sit Up For This: Physical Therapist On Building Better Posture

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Bad posture can lead to health problems. (StockSnap/Pixabay)
Bad posture can lead to health problems. (StockSnap/Pixabay)

Bad posture can lead to health problems.

Physical therapist Rupal Patel (@rupal512) joins Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson to explain why slouching is bad for you, and share advice on ways you can stop.

What Is Good Posture, And Why Is It Important?

"To me, good posture is carrying your body in a way that is mechanically safe," Patel says. "So, that means that your spine is in its natural curves, which allows the muscles to activate from the inside out, and gives us a solid foundation for when we need to move.

"If we sit in poor posture for long periods of time, essentially our brain begins to create a strong connection between the way that we're sitting and how we want our muscles to be activated all the time. So we begin to create these pathways, which are essentially shortcuts. And so instead of our brain being wired to access movement in a mechanically sound way, it then starts to access movement more from the outside in, which essentially sets us up for injury down the line."

How Can Poor Posture Be Harmful?

"It's kind of like if you woke up on a Saturday morning and you jumped in your car to go to your kid's soccer game, and instead ended up at work," Patel says. "Essentially what happens is our brain — because of its neural plasticity, and because of how intelligent it is — it really takes note of how we're holding our bodies. When we hold ourself in poor posture over a long period of time, essentially what happens is we're shortening certain muscles and lengthening other muscles, and that muscle memory essentially changes the way that our brain is accessing the movement through the muscles.

"And so when we recruit the muscles — say, in an activity such as soccer or rock climbing or whatever we might be doing on the weekends — that is the same way our brain is gonna access our muscles to be used in those settings as well. So therefore it kind of sets your body up for incongruency and injury."

Does Good Posture Come Naturally, Or Is It Learned?

"It's a combination of a couple of things," Patel says. "Again, coming back to this idea that when we sit in long periods of time with poor posture, our brain will learn and adapt to wanting to kinda be in that posture. That being said, our body always remembers how to sit or stand with the good posture. It's more of a subconscious battle to kind of bring us back to that place and hold it and assume it for longer periods of time."

How Many Americans Need To Work On Their Posture?

"I would say close to 100 percent, myself included."

6 Tips For Improving Your Posture

1. Make sure your body feels grounded and balanced while sitting

"That's the best tool that we have for feedback for ourselves, is our body, and how we feel inside of it."

2. Think of your pelvis and rib cage as bowls

"A great way to think of it is, you can imagine your pelvis being in the shape of a bowl, and you can also imagine your rib cage being in the shape of a bowl, except that bowl is upside down," Patel says. "So you can kinda picture that these two bowls sit on top of one another, and if you're slouching forward — for example, if you are in an upright, kind of military posture — you'll notice that both of those bowls are open to the front. And so any water, let's say, that's in those bowls is gonna be spilling forward. If you're slouching in the opposite direction so that your shoulders are hunched forward, and your head is coming forward on your body, you'll notice that those bowls are gonna open up to the back.

"So a really good and simple way to kind of bring you back to that natural balance would be to balance those two bowls on top of one another, so that there is no opening."

3. Let your shoulders "be heavy"

"I always tell people, 'Think about your shoulder blades like slices of butter melting down your back into your back pocket,' " Patel says. "We want to try to avoid forcing them down or pulling them in, because that's gonna create another muscle imbalance. And so again, it's about that awareness of letting them stay heavy as well."

4. Stay hydrated, and remember to get up and move

"I think it's good practice to do little things such as drinking lots of water to make sure you're getting up and going to the restroom, just to give yourself that reset whenever you sit back down," Patel says. "Or if you have a standing desk, same concept, just standing in a way that is good for your body."

5. Limit your phone time

"Maybe give yourself a cap on how [many] extended periods of time you're gonna spend on your phone," Patel says. "Trying to bring your phone up to your face, rather than your head down to your phone, is another good tip."

6. Get a good night's sleep

"With sleep, I always tell people that your body, again, is gonna tell you when you need to switch positions," Patel says. "There is no one ideal position that works for everybody, and there's not one mattress that works for everybody. I think the best thing for sleep is making sure that you're getting good quality sleep so that you can function optimally and your immune system is up to par."

This article was originally published on December 14, 2017.

This segment aired on December 14, 2017.



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