Desk jobs, commutes and the constant ding of our cellphones and laptops mean we spend most of our days with our shoulders rounded. As a result, 80 percent of us are suffering from tension headaches or chronic neck, shoulder, and back pain, report UCLA researchers.
“A slumped posture can pinch spinal nerves and put strain on the muscles that support the upper body,” explains Anthony Kouri, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center. And according to Canadian researchers, slouching compresses blood vessels enough to cut energizing blood flow by 33 percent.
The good news: Research in the journal Cognition and Emotion suggests improving your posture will cut your aches and pains in half, plus increase your energy, mood, and brain function by as much as 60 percent. “When your posture is good, the nervous system sends signals that sharpen focus and increase the production of mood-boosting neurotransmitters,” explains study co-author Iris Schneider, Ph.D. “This will help you more easily handle — and bounce back from — stressful days.” Read on for the study-proven tricks that make perfect posture a breeze!
Wiggle a Little.=
Taking a one-minute break every half hour to stand up and shake your hips, shoulders, and arms offers the same energy-boosting benefits you’d get from 30 minutes of yoga or tai chi daily, suggests research in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science.
“Breaking up chair time with small, frequent motion improves circulation and loosens tight muscles, helping reset sitting posture if weariness has made you slouch,” explains study co-author Chan Nam, PhD. And there are a host of free, customizable apps and programs that remind you to stand up and wiggle. A few we like: Stand Up! (for iPhone and iPad), Randomly RemindMe (for Android devices) and Awareness (for PC and Mac).
A Simple Squeeze
“Your body adapts to what you do often, so the more time you spend slouched, the weaker your back muscles become and the tighter your chest muscles become — and that imbalance can make posture improvements a real struggle,” says Dr. Kouri.
Thankfully, researchers at Virginia’s James Madison University have found that a simple muscle-building trick called scapular squeezes can quickly strengthen out-of-shape back muscles while simultaneously stretching tight chest muscles, making it easier to improve your posture.
To do: Once each hour, gently roll your shoulders up and back, then squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you’re trying to hold a ball between them. Hold that squeeze for 30 seconds, then relax. Repeat three times.
A Better Bra
It’s not just you: 80 percent of larger-breasted women are wearing bras that don’t fit properly or provide enough support. And a poorly fitting bra can double your risk of posture problems, energy drains, and chronic neck, shoulder, and back pain, report researchers in the journal Sports Medicine.
The fix: a posture bra. “Their wide, supportive straps lift the breasts and remove tension on weary back and shoulder muscles, improving posture and easing pain — often in as little as 48 hours,” says study co-author and biomechanics researcher Julie Steele, PhD.
Hint: The best posture bras have a cross-back pattern, separate cups, a high racerback and a front clasp. Check out some of our favorites, here!
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.