If you find yourself slumping over that stroller, you need to straighten up. Here's how to achieve posture perfection.
I've had lousy posture for as long as I can remember. It's so poor, in fact, that my husband claims my knuckles scrape the floor like a gorilla's. I didn't realize how low I'd sunk until I had a moment of truth: I was leaving my hair salon and caught sight of a woman hurrying by in the plate glass window. Wow, is she schlumpy, I thought smugly. Her neck craned forward, and she looked like she was perpetually dodging dog poop on the sidewalk. Her one redeeming quality was her haircut, which bore a suspicious resemblance to mine...you see where this is going.
Unfortunately, merely trying to stand up straight isn't enough. In order to truly straighten up, say experts, you (and I!) have to commit to a slouch-free lifestyle. You won't just look taller and thinner, "you'll improve your circulation, your breathing, and your digestion," says posture expert Janice Novak, author of Posture: Get It Straight! (improveyourposture.com). "Plus, you'll help prevent back and neck pain."
You probably don't need much more convincing than that, but how do you begin? By making simple adjustments to the things you do every day. I've started, and things are looking a little straighter.
Anti-Slouching Tips: 1 to 3
I wasn't born with bad posture, nor was it something that just happened. A complex interplay of bad habits and two life-changing events -- being pregnant and becoming a mom -- all came together. In short, there are many, many reasons why I'm frequently slouching toward Starbucks -- and why you may be slouching, too.
Reason #1: Getting Pregnant
"Pregnancy causes us to arch our back as the baby grows," Novak says. Plus, pregnancy hormones loosen ligaments, so bones can easily slide into poor alignment.
What to do:
- Practice pelvic tilts. They'll strengthen your lower back, making it easier to stand up straight when the weight of your belly throws off your posture. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and roll your pelvis forward.
- Try prenatal yoga. These classes work with your altered sense of balance to strengthen the lower-back muscles that help you stand straighter. As always, consult your doctor before trying any kind of exercise during pregnancy.
Reason #2: Excess Baggage
If you're anything like me, you probably can't even count the number of things you schlep around in your purse, diaper bag, or both. "Supporting a heavy bag on one shoulder throws off correct body alignment," says Novak. "You wind up using the wrong muscles and tendons for the wrong purposes to compensate." The result? Poor posture.
What to do:
- Streamline your purse and diaper bag. I did, and skimmed off several pounds in loose change, stale teething biscuits, and useless gewgaws that came with the bags. (Just because a bag comes with four change purses doesn't mean you need to lug them all around.)
- Find other ways to carry your bag. Hang it off the stroller, buy a backpack that sits evenly on your shoulders, or consider trying a lumbar pack, which rides low on your back.
Reason #3: Busting Out All Over
Some of us started slouching when puberty hit and our breasts blossomed before those of our peers. Others found that sporting lactating heavyweights was more than our shoulders could bear, and thus the slumping began.
What to do:
- Change your bra. A more supportive style can carry some of the weight for you, easing shoulder strain.
- See your doctor. If your breasts are out of proportion to your frame, and you've been suffering from back and neck pain, you may need physical therapy or even a reduction.
Anti-Slouching Tips: 4 to 6
Reason #4: Pram Jam
Most of us don't practice stroller pushing before baby comes along. And how many parents have posture on their mind when they're leaning forward to admire their precious cargo? Stroller slump is a new-mom posture plague.
What to do:
- Look for a stroller with adjustable handles. "Handles that are too low or too high may cause you to slouch," says Novak. You should be able to push the stroller and stand up straight.
- Think about switching to a lighter stroller. If your current set of wheels is the size of a Hummer, you may be straining (and slumping) against its weight as you push. Light strollers are easy on the back.
Reason #5: Not Seeing Straight
Do you crane your neck forward to see your computer screen at work (or the ounces on baby's bottle)? If so, your vision may be putting your posture at risk.
What to do:
- Get your eyes examined! You may need corrective lenses. If you can see, you won't have to crane your neck.
- Take a look at your computer. There may be nothing wrong with your eyes. Your computer just might be set on a tiny font size, resulting in eyestrain (and posture strain).
Reason #6: Bad Habits
Lots of us slouch out of habit and are just too distracted by our myriad responsibilities to do anything about it. And like any other habit, bad or good, practice makes perfect. Sooner or later, slouching becomes a lot more comfortable than standing up straight.
What to do:
- Remind yourself to stand up straight...even if you have to stick a Post-it on your fridge.
- Make your environment conducive to good posture. "Adjust the driver's seat of your car to ensure that your back is straight and your head sits against the headrest," suggests Novak. Make sure your desk chair is the appropriate height -- your knees should be at a 90-degree angle, as should your elbows when your hands rest on your computer keyboard.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, September 2004.