Body posture could influence mood. Photo: Stocksy
Remember being told not to slouch and to stand up straight? It turns out posture not only affects our physical health and appearance, but also directly influences our mood, ability to handle stress and even our social skills.
"Changing your postural habits for the better can be a tool to help fight stress and low self-esteem," says Lorraine Josey, a postural behaviour expert and occupational therapist.
There are simple things you can do to improve your posture and in doing so boost your mood, energy and appearance.
What good posture looks like
Don't aim for a perfectly upright posture that is rigid and stationary, but rather one that can move, bend, stretch and twist with ease. "Bad posture causes pain and drops in energy levels, self-esteem, communication skills and appearance," says Josey. "Posture is a critical part of healthy function and it's something everyone needs to be taking notice of."
First, evaluate your posture. "Get someone to take a photograph of you from the side and the back when you're not aware of it," says Josey. "From the side, the ideal posture is that you can draw a [straight] line from the ears through the shoulders, lower back, hips, knees and ankles." Looking from the back, check whether one shoulder or hip is higher than the other. Once you are aware of your postural habits, you can start to change them.
Small adjustments, big changes
"The most common postural problem I see is upper body slouching," says Josey.
The best remedy is to relax your shoulders and lift your breastbone up towards the ceiling. "This way you will correct the curve [that appears when you slump] and your shoulders will gently roll back," says Josey. "The worst thing you can do is strain your shoulders back."
Get out of a slump
A study published in the journal Health Psychology in 2014 found that body posture could influence mood. Participants were positioned into either a slumped or upright posture and asked to complete a series of psychological stress tasks. The upright participants reported feeling more enthusiastic, excited and strong, with higher self-esteem and lower fear compared with slumped participants who described feeling more nervous, sleepy and sluggish. "Just like forcing a smile can lift your mood," says Josey, "sitting up straight can make you feel happier and increase your ability to handle stress."
Straight up sexy
Improving your posture not only gives you a sense of wellbeing, it also influences others' perceptions of you. Lorraine Josey quotes research in which participants rank the same masked person in different postures. "Studies have repeatedly shown a slumped figure is regarded as duller, less sociable, more submissive, less attractive and less sexy," she says.
In an age where everything is so easily accessible on smartphones and tablets, looking down at screens has become more common. "This causes a significant build up of tension in our neck that ultimately leads to stiffness, pain and poor posture," says chiropractor Dr Mark El-Hayek. He suggests basic neck stretches to lessen the strain, reducing muscular imbalances and joint changes.
Take a stand
Poor posture doesn't come about over a few weeks or months; it occurs over multiple years. "Our bodies were designed to be standing, but instead we spend most of our time sitting," says El-Hayek. A 2012 study conducted by the Chiropractors' Association of Australia showed that in an average working day an office worker stands for only 73 minutes in a 24-hour period.
"The first thing I'd suggest to people who want to prevent their posture from getting worse is to get up," says El-Hayek "You should be standing up from your desk every 20 to 30 minutes to allow for movement of the joints in your spine. You don't need more than 30 seconds; you just need to change the pattern that you're holding your body in."
- Go digital – invest in a device with a clip-on monitoring sensor that vibrates when you slouch, giving you gentle feedback to straighten up.
- We tend to do the same activities with one side of our body – switch the ear you usually hold your phone to and the shoulder you carry your bag on.
- Try not to cross your legs when sitting – your ankles should be in front of your knees.
- Don't sleep on your stomach – it changes the biomechanics of the lower back and can lead to poor posture.