Memories of my mom reminding me to “Sit up straight!” come to mind every time I think about my sometimes less-than-stellar posture. Younger me may have thought it was just a bit of harmless nagging, but now that I am in my mid-thirties, I can really feel that lower back ache after a day of sitting at the office. It’s hard not to think I should have heeded that advice a bit more. (Okay, okay, I hear you, Mom!)
According to the National Library of Medicine, correct posture can reduce back pain, an issue that affects more than one fourth of the working population. But while most of us know we should focus on keeping our body in alignment, how much should we really be working on it? According to physical therapist Femi Betiku, DPT, a certified Pilates instructor for Club Pilates, the answer is pretty often—daily, to be exact.
“I would recommend posture exercises be done every single day, alongside mindfulness to correct poor posture during work, home, driving, etc.” says Dr. Betiku. “Many times, it takes a high frequency of repetition in order to build up the strength of these postural muscles, as well as a high frequency of cueing in order to correct posture throughout the day.”
That may seem like a big commitment, but it’s worth it when you consider the alternative. A slouched position puts excess pressure on the muscles around the spine, as well as our discs and ligaments, causing inflammation and pain. Bad posture can also increase muscle tension in the neck and shoulders, leading to headaches and stiffness. Maybe more surprisingly, Dr. Betiku explains that poor posture can also lead to a decreased lung capacity.
“Your overall fitness is very much related to your posture,” he says. “More studies are coming out that show that poor posture alone will affect one’s overall lung capacity.” When you are slunched over, your lungs compress and you can end up experiencing respiratory issues. “Those with poor posture won’t be able to experience optimal fitness with cardio training,” he adds.
The good news? Troubleshooting that mid-day hunch habit is fairly simple. It just takes consistency and a little focus. “Postural exercises can literally be done anywhere,” Dr. Betiku says. “At work, while stopped at a red light, while cooking. It’s all about the intention and awareness.”
Dr. Betiku’s top two posture exercises
1. Draw your shoulder blades together
Sit upright with your arms by your side and hands resting on your lap, then focus on your shoulder blades and draw them together. “This will activate some of the main postural muscles in your upper back,” says Dr. Betiku. Hold the position for five deep breaths.
2. Extend your upper back
Sit upright and cross your arms over your chest. With your focus on the center of your back, extend the part of your upper back that’s in between your shoulder blades—”as if you are shining your heart up towards the ceiling at a forty-five-degree angle,” says Dr. Betiku. Repeat three or five times.
For both exercises, try to do them once per day. Make it a part of your morning routine, something you do whenever you go to the bathroom, or when you sit back down after lunch. Once it’s a daily habit, better posture will follow.