Once you move out of your mother’s house, probably no one reminds you to stand up straight. But good posture is not only important for looking your best, it’s also essential for good health!
Why: As human beings, our bodies are designed to stand upright, a position that helps us maintain balance. When your shoulders are hunched, you have an increased risk for falls. Plus, hunching causes other parts of your body to compensate to restore balance, which can result in upper and lower back pain, neck pain, headaches and other aches. Additionally, some research has linked bad posture to reduced lung function, poor circulation, digestive issues and much more.
Why We Hunch
Let’s face it—hunching is easier than standing up straight. Over the years, your body settles into its most comfortable position, and that becomes your “normal.” The problem with this comfortable position is that it contributes to atrophy of the hip, shoulder, upper back and core muscles because they aren’t being used to hold your body in alignment. Year by year, this muscle atrophy makes slumping more exaggerated and can lead to the health problems mentioned above.
Modern life also contributes to hunching. According to a 2016 Nielsen report, we spend an average of three hours each day hunched over a smartphone, computer or tablet…and another four hours slouched in front of a TV.
Help for the Hunch
To develop good posture and lose the hunch, you need to strengthen the muscles mentioned earlier that help make standing up straight second nature. This simple routine takes no more than about four minutes to complete. If you do the exercises daily, you will start showing results in as little as two weeks.
Exercise 1—Stabilize Shoulders Down
- Lie flat on your back on a mat on the floor, legs extended or knees bent (whatever is most comfortable), with your arms in a “T” position (elbows should be in line with your shoulders). Your face needs to be parallel to the ceiling.
- Bend your elbows so that your fingers point toward the ceiling and your palms face your feet.
- Keeping your elbows on the floor, pull your shoulders down toward your feet. Then bring your palms toward the floor as far as you comfortably can while keeping your shoulders down. Hold the position for three to five breaths (see below for the proper breathing technique).
Exercise 2—Open Chest Up
- Lie flat on your back and bend your elbows so that your fingers point toward the ceiling and your palms face your feet as in Exercise 1.
- Bring your hands backward toward the floor as far as you comfortably can. Your arms will be in a “goalpost” position. Important: Keep your shoulders down as in Exercise 1. Do not shrug them.
Do this three to five times. Inhale as you point your fingers to the ceiling, and exhale as you bring your hands toward the floor.
Exercise 3—Floor Angels
- Lie flat on your back as above, but with your arms flat on the floor in a goalpost position.
- Keeping your forearms parallel, and your shoulders on the floor, slide your arms up and down on the floor. Again, do not shrug your shoulders while performing this exercise.
Do this three to five times. Inhale as you slide your arms up, exhale as you slide your arms down.
Once you master this, make the exercise more challenging by holding and stretching an elastic exercise band between your hands as you move your arms up and down.
Exercise 4—Pinkie Touch
- Lie facedown on the floor, with your forehead resting on the floor. Your arms should be straight at your sides with palms facing down.
- Keeping shoulders down and elbows straight, move your hands together beneath your torso so that your pinkie fingers are touching. (You’ll have to raise your hips a bit to give your hands room to move.) Hold this position for three to five breaths.
As you perform these exercises, it’s important to breathe from the belly, not the chest. Why: When you breathe from the chest, your shoulders naturally hunch…but when you breathe from the belly, your shoulders stay in place.
To get the hang of belly breathing: Stretch an elastic exercise band across your lower back, with an end in each hand. Then crisscross the band in front of you, across your waist, about the level of your navel (you will need to exchange the band ends in your hands). Keeping your elbows bent at your sides, make the band snug but not tight. If you are breathing correctly, as you inhale, you will feel your belly pressing against the band, while your chest remains still. Exhale through pursed lips as your belly deflates.
How to Monitor Your Posture
To track changes in your posture, ask a friend to take an annual photo of you from the front and side. Or use PostureZone, a free app.
Self-Test for Hunching: Even people who don’t think that they hunch their shoulders probably slump to some degree. Try this simple exercise to find out if you’re slumping (you can do this while standing or sitting)…
- First, bring your shoulders forward and in toward your chest, and then bring them up toward your ears. This is an exaggerated hunch.
- Next, pull your shoulders back and down toward your feet. This is how your shoulders should be positioned for good posture. If this position feels uncomfortable or painful, you may have a hunching problem.