Have you ever sat at your desk and felt pain in your neck, back, and shoulders? It could be due to poor posture. Maintaining good posture means sitting in a way that allows your bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons to all be in proper alignment so that no particular area or part of your body has unnecessary amounts of stress placed on it. Proper posture prevents joint and muscle pain that can become almost permanent over time as the stress causes damage to your body. Improper posture can increase your risk of arthritis and even limit proper organ and nervous system function. If you’re constantly hunched over it will cause your torso to become shorter than it should be. Maintaining poor posture on a regular basis can be a result of both weak muscles and overly tight muscles. Stress and long hours of sitting in the same place, working on a computer, for example, can cause the neck, shoulder, and back muscles to tighten up and cause bad posture as we hunch and lean to try to compensate for the tension we’re feeling. If your abdominal muscles are weak, your posture will also suffer significantly because the core muscles are essential for supporting the spine and even aligning the hips as you walk and sit, which is another reason to be sure you’re making time to incorporate some core strengthening exercises into your routine. It seems like we often recognize bad posture when we see it or feel it, but could you demonstrate perfect posture if you were asked? Proper posture is different if you’re sitting, standing, lying down, or exercising. Here are some tips for improving your posture no matter what you’re up to: If you’re sitting: Start by lengthening your torso and “sitting up straight.” You’ll probably be surprised at how much you were just slouching without even realizing it! Roll your shoulders back to relax them and align them with your hips and place your feet flat on the floor so that your torso-to-thigh and thigh-to-calf angles should both be 90 degrees. Make sure you’re not holding tension in your shoulders and keeping them up too high or hunching them forward toward whatever you’re working on, even though it’s always quite tempting. If you’re standing: Your ears, shoulders, hips, and ankles should all be in one straight line for optimal standing posture. It’s best to stand with your feet about hip-distance apart instead of with feet together or spread widely. You’ll also want to keep your toes pointing forward, avoid locking the knees, keep equal weight in both legs or shift back and forth slightly, and keep the spine long and straight. Think about how in movies, children are taught to maintain proper walking posture by walking while balancing a book on their heads. There really is a benefit to keeping the chin up and parallel to the floor, because it helps to keep your back straight and your shoulders down and back, as well! If you’re sleeping: Maintaining good posture while sleeping can be extremely difficult because it’s always just easiest to lay the way that feels most comfortable instead of sleeping in a way that’s best for your spine. If you sleep sprawled out on your stomach, this is one of the worst positions in which to sleep according to the American Chiropractic Association. Sleeping on your stomach can cause the spine to be curved backward more than it should, causing unnecessary strain on the back muscles. The best ways to sleep for your spine and muscular health are on your side with a pillow between your legs, or on your back with a pillow under your knees. These sleeping positions might take a little getting used to, but can actually be quite comfortable if you’re willing to give it a try. If you’re exercising: When exercising, posture is more commonly referred to as “proper form,” but is just as important as during all other times of your daily life. During weight-lifting exercises, it is especially important to keep the shoulders and shoulder blades down and back and the chest and face up and forward, as they would be when you’re standing. Make sure that you learn the proper form for any exercise before you attempt it or do that exercise regularly to ensure maximum benefit and minimal damage to your body. If you feel that you have poor posture in your daily life, incorporating gentle muscle-strengthening exercises into your week, such as yoga or light weight lifting can help you gain the strength to naturally hold your body in a healthier position. Yoga poses and exercises can be great for strengthening weak back muscles and stretching out the abdominals, and it can be good for stretching out your hips if they have that achy feeling after a long day of sitting. The good news is that you are completely in control of your posture, and it’s never too late to make great changes to improve your health and comfort! It can be so hard to pay attention to something as seemingly simple as the way we stand, sit, or even sleep, but just developing this healthy habit can have long-lasting benefits to our overall health. Comfort is important, but before you curl into a tiny ball in one of your comfortable chairs at work or home, consider giving a day of good posture a try to improve not only your health and long-term comfort, but to create a focused setting as you sit down to read or just to relax.