I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m tall or because I sit hunched over a computer all day long, but I have terrible posture. This isn’t necessarily a new discovery, but what is new to me is how much bad posture can actually affect your stress levels — something I learned as part of our sponsor Aetna’s Month of Mindfulness #Mindful30 challenge.

Yikes! Like it’s not bad enough that I realize I look bad slouching in pictures, now it’s contributing to stress?

So for my 3rd challenge, they asked me to focus on “perfecting my posture,” and boy, did I need it. Not only do a I feel taller — which hey, even I’ll take that —  but I’ve been experiencing less tension overall. Especially in my shoulders, neck,and back, which happen to be my three problem areas.

Here are 5 things I’ve been trying to help me improve poor posture, and I hope they will help you too, because don’t forget — you can join me on the #Mindful30 challenge! Plus, who doesn’t want to feel a little taller?

[top image via beth scupham on flickr via creative commons]

What is good posture? 

This week I spent some time actually figuring out my perfect posture. As a ballet dancer for many years growing up, I actually have a pretty good sense of what it is, but I admit that outside of the ballet studio, standing like that feels really weird. Plus, in ballet, posture was mostly focused on my upper body and not really focused on my lower body.

I found this chart from The Roll Model to be pretty helpful, and I’ve been referring to it when I need a little refresher.

Simple ways to improve your posture: Good Posture chart from The Roll Model

It took a few days for me to get used to standing with my ears over my shoulders, and honestly, I’m still not sure if I’m 100% there yet. It feels like I’m sticking my chest out! But once I started doing it consistently, it didn’t feel as odd to me. You couldn’t call me an expert at this point, but I think my posture has definitely improved since I started.

 

Practice makes perfect

When I first attempted to work on my posture, I found that practicing in the mirror, or by standing up against a wall really helped. It’s one thing to read what you’re supposed to do, or even watch someone else doing it, but when it comes to your own posture, it’s hard to actually feel if you’ve got it right. This is especially true if you’ve got really bad posture; it’s probably going to feel pretty awkward to make a major shift.

What works best for me is standing sideways in front of a full length mirror, and taking a photo of myself standing with ideal posture, so that I could replicate that form later in the day day. You can also stand up against a wall for extra practice.

Don’t feel silly. You can do it!

 

Strengthen your core

Strong core muscles go hand-in-hand with good posture, and while I think mine are pretty decent (though perhaps not as toned as I’d like them to be, ahem), they definitely need some work. Plus, having four kids — or even just one — can really wreak havoc on your body’s center, so it’s really no wonder that my posture isn’t exactly as it should be.

Fortunately, magazines and websites offer no shortage of expert-recommended core exercises, like the one pictured here from The Greatist, that are designed to help strengthen your core without the need for any gym equipment or weights.

 

Simple ways to improve your posture: 12-minute core workout from The Greatist

 

For me personally, I’ve found that holding a plank for one minute a day has done wonders, then gradually adding a few seconds to that time when I feel like I can. That particular exercise is not for everyone, of course, so do a little searching to find the option that will work best for you.

 

Change up your work space

I’m not sure about you, but my job frequently requires me to sit at a computer all day long, which I really think is the worst culprit in all of my posture problems.

Over the last year, I’ve gotten a lot better about sitting at a table rather than plopping down on the floor, settling into the couch, or laying down in my bed with my laptop on my knees. But after doing some reading, I found that even moving to a table and chair set-up will only be effective if it’s carefully laid out.

Simple ways to improve your posture: Ergotron Ergonomic workspace planner

I found this interactive workspace planner by Ergotron a few months ago and took some time this past week to match my particular set-up with their measurements. And wow, I have to say that it’s made a huge difference for me!

Granted, I wasn’t experiencing any pain or discomfort at the time, but I’ve definitely felt a huge decline in neck and shoulder strain at the end of each day now.

 

Set up calendar alerts about posture. Really. 

I can’t even believe I’m admitting this, but I’ve actually had to set up reminders in my calendar to help me focus on my posture. But hey, it works for me! I’d love to get to a point where I don’t have to even think about it, but for now, I set reminders twice a day on my Google calendar which text an alert for me to take a second to see how I’m sitting or standing, and then fix it.

If you’re an Apple Watch user, you can also use those hourly movement notifications (“time to stand up!”) as a cue to check your posture as well.

For now, I’m going to stick with those daily calendar reminders  so that I’m continuing to make positive changes and even the busiest of days won’t get in my way. Hey, maybe that will work for you, too.

 

The views and opinions expressed here are purely the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Aetna. Thanks to Aetna and their site aetnamindfulness.com for sponsoring this post series. 

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