At Elite Akademy, somewhere around 80-90% of injuries we treat relate to incorrect posture. Every day I see people with bad backs and related injuries caused by poor posture. Sitting posture has become the most important, reflecting our more sedentary lifestyles.
While good posture’s physical benefits have long been understood – such as encouraging stronger backs and better breathing capacity, what if posture can also aid our mental health? Medical studies suggest a strong link that few people are aware of.
A San Francisco University study found that adopting a more upright, healthy body posture can improve mood and energy levels. The study also found that a slouched or poor body posture can lead to “feelings of depression or decreased energy”.
Social psychologist Amy Cuddy, a professor and researcher at Harvard Business School – takes it one step further. Her research shows that just adopting high power or low power poses for a period of two minutes has a measured hormonal effect.
Ms Cuddy’s research found that high power poses – good, strong posture – leads to higher testosterone, which is linked with higher confidence levels. High power poses also lower the “stress hormone”, cortisol
The opposite is also true: adopting low power posture leads to lower testosterone levels and higher cortisol. Ms Cuddy claims that only two minutes is enough to make you feel more assertive and confident.
There is no doubt that correcting poor posture is difficult, but it is possible. Consider the following five steps for improving posture:
1. Repetition: It takes approximately 3000 reps of straightening your spine (standing/sitting tall) for this to become automated by the brain. This is what we classify as motor learning. When motor learning occurs then a task becomes automated. For example, golfers try to automate their movements through practice; being a technical sport it takes about 10,000 reps (swings) to automate a golf swing. Standing tall and straightening your spine is not technical. Thus it only requires 3000 reps.
Using 3000 reps as a rule, it means if people do 200 reps per day they will achieve good posture in as little as 15 days.
So how do we achieve 200 reps per day?
2. Cues to remind you to “grow tall”: It’s easy to forget posture, so establish some cues:
Imagine a piece of string pulling you up from your head. We naturally elongate. You are NOT standing to attention. You are simply standing tall with your shoulders relaxed back not pulled back. Tie this cue into some of your daily rituals. For example, every time you check your phone, grow tall before you open the app. Studies have found people check their phone 60-80 times per day. So that means that in a little as 38-50 days people could change their posture. “Growing tall” while checking your inbox can account for another 30-50 reps per day.
3. Team up: Like with exercise, great results can be achieved by having allies on board. You may have a partner, family member, child, friend or colleague who also wants to work on their posture. Together, you can support and remind each other to stand or sit tall: every time you remind someone you remember too.
4. Use your regular walks: If there is a walk people do regularly (walking to the bus stop, train station, car park, coffee shop) then calculate the number of minutes taken to get there. People take approximately 100 steps every minute they walk. If you are conscious of “being tall” during a five minute walk, this would account for 500 reps meaning you can achieve good walking posture in as little as six days. On your walk you may use your reflection in shopfronts and mirrors as more cues.
5. Wearable devices as another cue: Wearable tech such as fitness trackers can become a reminder system. If it turns on/off randomly with movement then it becomes a cue. Using this method alone can help you achieve good posture in about 100 days.
– Kusal Goonewardena, Elite Athlete Sports Physiotherapist & Founder