By Tim Taylor

Stand up straight

Stand up straight. And stop slouching. How many times did you hear those words when you were a child? As it turns out, good posture is about more than just trying to look your best. The way you hold your body, whether you are moving or still, makes a difference in your health. Good posture can prevent pain, injuries and other health problems. Posture refers to how you hold your body. Dynamic posture refers to how you hold yourself when you are moving, like when you are walking, running or bending over to pick something up. Static posture is how you hold yourself when you are not moving, such as when you are sitting, standing or sleeping. The key to good posture is the position of your spine. Your spine has three natural curves, at your neck, mid back, and low back. Correct posture should maintain these curves, but not increase them. Your head should be above your shoulders, and the top of your shoulder should be over the hips.

At home and at work

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Maintaining proper posture helps keep bones and joints in correct alignment so that the body’s muscles are used correctly, decreasing the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could result in degenerative arthritis and joint pain. It also reduces the stress on the ligaments holding the spinal joints together, minimizing the likelihood of injury. Good posture allows muscles to work more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy and, therefore, preventing muscle fatigue. It also helps prevent muscle strain, overuse disorders, and even back and muscular pain. So what are some of the causes of bad posture? Some of the most common factors include stress, obesity, pregnancy and high-heeled shoes. In addition, decreased flexibility, a poor work environment, incorrect working posture, and unhealthy sitting and standing habits can also contribute to poor body positioning. It’s important to recognize any posture problems at home and at work.

No slouching

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The next time you’re standing in line, whether it’s for that new blockbuster at the movie theatre or shopping for that special holiday gift, think about your posture. Slouching or slumping while standing can misalign your musculoskeletal system and cause neck, shoulder and back pain. Poor posture can also affect your balance and your joints, make it harder to digest food and make it harder to breathe. The good news is there are steps you can take to improve your posture while standing in that line. First, stand up straight and tall. Keep your shoulders back and pull your stomach in. Put most of your weight on the balls of your feet and keep your head level. Let your arms hang down naturally at your sides and keep your feet about shoulder-width apart. If you will be standing in line for a long time, try shifting your weight from your toes to your heels, or from one foot to another. With practice, you can improve your posture and you will look and feel better.

Proper lifting

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Lifting requires proper training and technique. So when it comes to lifting heavy objects, whether it’s at work or in the home, proper posture is important. By lifting with your large, strong leg muscles instead of the small muscles of the back, you can prevent back injuries and reduce low back pain. First, get as close to the load as possible, as if you’re hugging the object. Having the object close to your body put less force on your low back. Be sure to keep yourself in an upright position while squatting to pick up. And tighten your stomach muscles when lifting. Tightening the stomach helps support the spine. But don’t hold your breath while tightening the muscles. Then, lift with your legs. Your legs are the strongest muscles in your body, so use them. If you pivot, turn with your feet, not your back. It isn’t built for twisting from side to side. If a load is too heavy to lift alone, be sure to ask for help. Pick one person to coach the lift, this way you lift and lower at the same time.

Switching positions

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Good posture needs to be maintained not just when you’re standing. The majority of Americans spend a good part of their day sitting, whether it’s at a desk, in a classroom or at home. When sitting, be sure to sit properly and take frequent breaks. Try switching sitting positions often and taking brief walks around your office or home. Gently stretch your muscles every so often to relieve any tension in them. And don’t cross your legs, keep your feet on the floor with your ankles in front of your knees. If your feet can’t reach the floor when you sit, use a footrest. Relax your shoulders, they should not be rounded or pulled backwards. Make sure that your back is fully supported. Use a back pillow or other back support if your chair does not have a backrest that can support your lower back’s curve. And make sure that your thighs and hips are supported. You should have a padded seat and your thighs and hips should be parallel to the floor.

Trusted by thousands of listeners every week, T. Glenn Pait, M.D., began offering expert advice as the host of UAMS’ “Here’s to Your Health” program in 1996. Dr. Pait began working at UAMS in 1994 and has been practicing medicine for over 20 years.