“Sit up straight. Don’t slouch!” Perhaps you remember this rebuke from your parents or teachers.
We should have listened to them. Back in 1984 a US study found 58 per cent of teenage boys and 30 per cent of girls had spinal damage.
Just imagine what a study carried out today would reveal about the new “tech-neck” generation who spend their lives peering into computer devices in a bent over position.
It’s not only head, neck and shoulder pain that’s caused by poor posture; it also reduces respiration, lowers energy and contributes to poor blood flow to the back of the brain.
In short, it might be making us stupid. And less happy, as I’ll explain in a moment.
One scientist’s research has focused on bad posture’s effect on mood and cognition. His findings should encourage us to take a long, had look at how we hold our bodies. . .
Easier Access to Positive Thoughts
Erik Peper is Professor of Holistic Health Studies in the Department of Health Education at San Francisco State University. He and his fellow researcher’s first paper on the effects of posture was published in 2004.
They asked 24 healthy men and women to generate positive and negative thoughts in either an upright or slumped position. Almost all of them reported it was easier to recall positive thoughts when sitting erect.
A later study involving 28 college students found that recalling any thoughts, whether positive or negative, takes a great deal more effort in a slouched position.
In a much larger study of over 200 students, almost nine out of ten found it was easier to recall memories of despair, vulnerability, powerlessness and defeat while in a slumped versus an upright posture.
Yikes! It sounds like bad posture is a recipe for misery.
Meanwhile the numbers reversed and nine out of ten found it was easier to access positive and empowering images in an erect rather than a hunched position.
Other studies have confirmed these findings.
New Zealand psychologists wrote that “Upright participants reported higher self-esteem, more arousal, better mood, and lower fear, compared to slumped participants.”
The Huge Two-Minute Hormone Change
In another posture study, Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy and colleagues measured testosterone, which is related to dominance and assertiveness, and the stress hormone cortisol.
After just two minutes, volunteers expressing high-power body postures experienced a 20% increase in testosterone and a 25% decrease in cortisol compared to a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol in those who folded up their bodies and made themselves look small.
Professor Peper’s latest study recruited 125 university students to perform a mental math test. The results have just been published. The students found the test much more difficult while sitting in a slouched position than sitting erect. This was particularly the case for those who were the most anxious about the test before it started.
His fellow author Richard Harvey, Associate Professor of Health Education, said that maintaining a defensive posture can trigger old negative memories in the body and brain.
Professor Peper added, “Posture makes a giant difference. The slumped-over position shuts people down and their brains do not work as well. They cannot think as clearly.
“Sitting in a collapsed posture may project a submissive, defeated, or depressed individual. [Yet] people tend to adopt a slouched posture while looking down at digital screens.
“You have a choice,” he continued. “It’s about using an empowered position to optimize your focus.”
How to Improve Posture
Anyone who has served in the military will not need reminding to keep their “chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in.”
When sitting, the bottom should be right at the back of the chair so the body is at a 90º angle. This will realign the pelvis in the correct position.
Many exercises can also correct a rounded posture by strengthening the muscles between the shoulder blades.
Taking classes in the Alexander Technique is another option. This helps change faulty postural habits, improve mobility and relieve tension and stress.
Be vigilant at all times, especially when using a smartphone. Adjust posture as soon as a slouched position is noted.
I happen to have a dog in this fight, as I’ve developed nasty spinal deterioration at the ripe old age of 66, after spending most of my life hunched over a book or (during the last 25 years) in front of a computer. I’m now in physical therapy, working on my posture.
I have to say, the results are remarkable. I wish I’d listened to the old fogeys years ago when I was a kid, and learned to stand/sit up straight.
A college professor named Jordan Peterson has created a great deal of buzz with a best-seller called 12 Rules for Life. He has a following among millions of young people, mostly men.
I haven’t read it, but I’m told the first rule is “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.”