Why it pays to improve your posture in the office

Every day I find myself talking to office workers about the perils of poor posture. More people are bending, stooping and hunching for longer periods due to daily activities such as using computers, writing and working. 

Poor posture places increased stress and strain on the body, making it function less efficiently and predisposing it to injury. Poor posture moves the load from the deep postural muscle system and places it on alternative structures; the wrong muscles, the wrong areas of the bones and on joints and ligaments.

Musculoskeletal problems can result in a decline in productivity, impeded blood circulation, shallow breathing due to a constricted diaphragm and chronic muscle tension. That's right – poor posture is costing you and your company money.

Here's how to avoid looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, become aware of posture and add some specific postural strength and stretching exercises to the mix.

Let's look at three specific types of posture.

Sitting posture

Think about the way you sit at your desk. Bet you typically sit ramrod-straight, right, just like your mum told you to? Hmmm…bet you don't. Anyone who spends hours each day at a desk is likely to sit hunched over, with a neck that sticks out towards the computer monitor. Basically, your posture is more that of a turkey than a human being. It's not a great look!

Paul Wright, leading educator and founder of Physio Professor has a simple tip for improving sitting posture. "Every 30 minutes raise your arms above your head and link your hands. Keep your head and neck in the same position, lower the arms, relax the shoulders and try and maintain this posture at your workstation".

Tips for working at a desk

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Daily or standing posture

It is something of a myth that most people possess normal posture. Identifying your current posture flaws will give you the opportunity to factor them into your training program. Combining the right strength exercises and stretches can have a dramatic impact on your posture and on your day-to-day energy levels.

A good posture or 'neutral spine' refers to the 'natural curves' present in a healthy spine. The spine made up of the 33 vertebrae in which should appear in a straight line from the back or the front.

  • The Cervical region is convex anteriorly (C1-C7)
  • The Thoracic region is convex posteriorly (T1-T12)
  • The Lumbar region is convex anteriorly (L1-L5).
  • Your sacrum and coccyx rest between pelvic bones

Plumb-bob posture check

A plumb line assessment is one of the easiest ways to assess your posture. Grab a piece of string about two metres long and tie a screw or weight to the bottom (like a builders plumb line). Then grab a friend and get them to hold the string next to your ear (turning sideways). If you've got a healthy posture the string line will travel through the ear, shoulder joint, hip joint, knee and ankle.

What does good posture look like?

The body is straight, but not robotic! The appearance is relaxed as the ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles align in one straight line.

Tips for good standing posture include:

  • Switch the abs on by doing a few sit ups
  • Avoid wearing high–heeled shoes (apart from at those Priscilla dress up parties!)
  • Choose shoes that offer good foot support and comfort. Some styles can affect the body's center of gravity. Flat shoes are better
  • Stay active and learn specific stabilizing exercises to stabilise the body
  • Get a firm mattress to help align your spine at night and sleep on your side or back, not on your stomach
  • If you have posture-related pain and stiffness, rather than second-guessing what to do– book in and see a good physio, chiropractor or exercise physiologist

Carrying posture

Carrying heavy items throughout the day puts added pressure on the spine. Only pack what you need and travel light.

Avoid a heavy purse, bag, man bag, attaché case worn over one shoulder. Physios have invented a term called 'backpack posture' to describe an imbalance in shoulder height due to carrying a backpack predominantly on one side of the body. This can place too much weight on one side of the body and can cause neck, shoulder, and back pain. If you must use a bag or briefcase with a single strap, make sure the strap is padded and wide

Lots of people use backpacks, but use them wisely. Some children carry almost as much weight in their backpack as they weigh. A loaded backpack should not exceed 15 per cent of the body's weight and never more than 10 kilos. Choose a backpack made of a lightweight material.

Make sure the shoulder straps are adjustable, wide and padded. A backpack with a waist/hip strap is preferable. Wear the pack with both shoulder straps and hip strap.

Pack the heavier items close to the back. Pointy objects should be packed away from the wearer's spine.

To avoid turning into the Hunchback of Notre Dame think about your posture in relation to how you sit, how you stand and how you carry items. Even the simple act of regularly thinking about posture has been shown to make positive changes.

What have you done to improve your posture? Let us know in the comments section below. 

Workplace performance expert Andrew May has been helping his white-collar clients achieve both physical and mental gains for decades, and has learned a trick or 20 - plus a few of the pitfalls - along the way.

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