Have you ever tried to blow up a balloon while someone was sitting on it? Obviously, this would not be an easy task. If you sit down and lean over, stretching your hands toward the floor in front of your feet, your breathing is far more difficult, because the two balloons in your chest—your lungs—cannot be filled as easily with air.
What does this extreme example tell us? Quite simply, the more restrictions you place on your breathing, the harder it becomes. Leaning over squeezes your lungs, making them smaller, and decreasing your breathing volume. Shallow breathing means less oxygen to your brain and body. Less oxygen means less energy, less focus and less function.
A 2006 report by the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation showed some striking results based on posture. Using 70 able-bodied participants in wheelchairs, the study found that bad posture does indeed affect breathing and lung capacity. They tested slumped seating, normal seating, standing and a special posture that imitates standing spinal alignment (WO-BPS). This special posture involves tilting the bottom of a seat with lumbar support—with the spine “against the back part of the seat without ischial [sitting bone] support.”
They found that slumping produced the worst lung capacity and expiratory flow (LC-EF). No surprise there. Normal sitting was better. WO-BPS was even better—in some cases as good as standing posture in both lung capacity and flow.
Slumping in a chair produces bad results, but so can slouching or rounding your shoulders while standing. Sitting or standing straight for a few minutes after slouching most of your life is not good enough. Your muscles, tendons and ligaments become trained by constant slouching. You need to train them with an entirely new habit. You need to create a new “upright” lifestyle.
Tips to help maintain good posture
- Sleep on a good bed. Too soft a mattress can be bad for your back. You want the mattress to support your spine as you sleep.
- Normal weight. If you have excess weight, particularly across the abdomen, your body has to work harder to stay upright. A big belly weakens abdominal muscles by pulling on the seven layers of back muscles that consequently need to work harder to keep you erect. Left too long, this can result in back pain and even agonizing spasms. Leg lifts while lying on your back can help strengthen your stomach muscles and give your back a break.
- Regular exercise. This not only helps to keep the weight down, but it tones your muscles and helps to keep you flexible so maintaining correct posture is easier.
- Keep a healthy spine. See your chiropractor regularly for spinal adjustments to address misalignments and improve your muscle tone. Back pain and poor muscle tone will make it very difficult to maintain correct posture.
- Good vision. If you have problems seeing, it might cause you to hunch over in order to see more clearly. Be sure to have your eyes checked regularly.
- Good environment. Properly fitting clothes that are not too tight can help you keep a healthy posture. Also, make certain your chair at work is at the right height. If your legs dangle, get a footrest to keep the excess pressure off your legs.