Good posture equals healthy mind

We know that good posture is essential for physical well-being – but did you know that research has found your posture also influences your mental state as well?

Physical benefits from good posture include better breathing which has been linked with better concentration (the brain needs about 20% of oxygen supply). Some experts estimate posture makes up to a 30% difference in our breathing capacity.

Good posture is also good for backs. I see people every day who suffer physical problems owing to their posture – in fact at least 90 per cent of injuries I see can be related to incorrect posture. Sitting posture has become the most important to address as so many of us live more sedentary lifestyles.

But perhaps the most powerful impact good posture can have is on our mind. A San Francisco University study found that adopting a more upright body posture – a healthy 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 has showed that just adopting high power or low power poses for a period of two minutes has a measured hormonal effect.

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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. Only two minutes is enough to make you feel more assertive and confident.

The opposite is also true: adopting low power posture leads to lower testosterone levels and higher cortisol. It’s not a stretch to say that correcting poor posture is among the most important things anybody can do.

Here are some keys to 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.

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So how do we achieve 200 reps per day?

  1. Cues to remind you to ‘grow tall’: It’s easy to forget posture, so establish some cues: 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. Every time people check their email. Before they open up their email they ‘grow tall’ in their seat. This accounts for another 30-50 times per day.
  2. 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.
  3. 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, mirrors etc. as more cues.
  4. 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.

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