To some degree, it's fair to say that we all want to look good. We don’t want to look old, stooped or anything like a hunchback. And on top of that, we may wish to come across to others as confidant, fit, healthy, happy etc.
But, is there more to posture than just how we look? (...in our facebook or instagram photos!)
Does posture impact our health in any way?
"Slouching puts pressure on the abdomen, which can force stomach acid in the wrong direction, and some evidence suggests that transit in the intestines slows down when you slouch."
Dr. Kyle Staller, Harvard Gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Some studies link slumping and slouching postures with many various medical conditions such as headaches, neck pain and shoulder pain syndromes.[1-5]
According to Harvard Medical School Health Publishing, general physical fitness and a healthy weight are important. But they mention that one surprisingly simple strategy can go a long way: Paying attention to your posture. They stated that good posture not only protects you against back pain, it also improves your overall health and appearance. Poor posture, on the other hand, promotes back pain and can affect the position and function of your abdominal organs, inhibit breathing and oxygen intake, and cause headaches. It may also affect mood.
"Because of poor posture, practically 95% of our population suffers from varying degrees of spinal curvature, not to mention more serious ailments."
Joseph Pilates, inventor of the pilates method of fitness.
Aside from our physical health, is there any connection between our posture and mental health? One can often gauge how another person is going just by observing their body language, and can make guesses to whether they look exhausted, miserable, bored etc. But what about the opposite? Can you utilise posture to your advantage?
Can you increase your happiness or mental state by spending time in certain body positions?
A recent study from the University of Auckland  found that people sitting upright exhibited a more positive emotional state than those who were slumped, and specifically felt more “enthusiastic, excited and strong.” The researchers theorised that the brain translates the muscular and hormonal signals attached to bodily posture into emotions.
As a society we often think of posture mostly as how we look, and something we can’t easily change or control.
Posture (noun): The carriage of the body as a whole, the attitude of the body, or the position of the limbs (the arms and legs).
By rethinking our definition of posture in a more medical sense, we can more broadly understand it as simply referring to the various positions we spend our time in, and what we do with our bodies during various activities and times of the day, such as the way in which we might opt to sit at our desk, lift/carry items or stand in a queue at the shops. In other words, choosing good/bad posture rather than having good/bad posture.
Our posture, like many of the other aspects of our health, therefore becomes empowering, connected perhaps more to lifestyle factors rather than genetics, and something we can have a significant amount of awareness and control over. We can learn what to do and not do. We can practice and reflect on our progress. Ultimately, we can enjoy all the associated physical and mental health benefits, and help prevent future problems.
So why not try it out now?
Body posture changes in women with migraine with or without temporomandibular disorders Mariana C. Ferreira,1 et al 2014 Jan-Feb; 18(1): 19–29.
NHS (2019). Migraine: overview. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/migraine/
Differences in cervical musculoskeletal impairment between episodic and chronic tension-type headache. Sohn, Jong-Hee, Choi, H-C, Lee, S-M, Jun, A-Y Cephalalgia 30(12):1514-23, July 2010
Ferrancini, G.N., Dach, F., Chaves, T.C., et al. (2016). Cervico-occipital Posture in Women with Migraine: A Case-Control Study. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.
Luedtke, K., Starke, W., & Arne, M. (2017). Musculoskeletal dysfunction in migraine patients. Cephalalgia.
 NHS (2017). 10 headache triggers. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/headaches/10-headache-tiggers/
Posture and back health, Harvard Medical School Health Publishing Published: March, 2014, www.health.harvard.edu/pain/posture-and-back-health
Upright Posture Influences Emotions and Stress Response in Mild to Moderate Depression Wilkes, Carissa, The University of Auckland