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Do you find yourself sinking into one side of your favourite couch while binging on the latest web series? Or hunching over your desk while working on that assignment your boss asked you for last week? 

We tend to ignore our posture for the better part of our youth, and continue to do so until chronic back pain kicks in. Or at least till doctors knock some sense into us about the benefits of maintaining a neutral, efficient posture.

A sedentary lifestyle, erratic hours at work or even lazing on a Sunday afternoon on the couch add up to poor posture in the long term. If you are not careful, it can lead to problems later in life.

There are simple ways to assess your posture and gait by yourself, especially by standing with your back against the wall. Depending on the cause, you can determine the kind of exercises you need to do to improve your posture.

  1. Examples of poor posture
  2. Poor posture problems
  3. Poor posture correction
  4. Tips to improve posture
  5. Takeaway for exercises to improve posture

We assume different postures throughout the day, whether it is while sitting down to work, to eat food, standing up or even while lying down. Some examples of bad posture are:

  • Stooping forward while standing up
  • Hunched over while working on a computer or phone screen
  • Rounded shoulders
  • Putting your weight on one leg while standing
  • Slouching in a chair, without the lower back touching the backrest
  • Sticking the hip out while standing or walking
  • Crossing your knees while sitting for prolonged periods

There are other ways that bad posture can creep into our daily lives - these are just some of the most common examples.

Drooping shoulders, slouching backs and craned necks can lead to long-term problems that can be difficult to counter. Some of the common problems people experience as a result of years of poor posture can be:

You can take measures to improve your posture by performing simple exercises at home or even at work, as they don’t take a lot of time.

Not only stretching but strengthening your muscles can help to ensure that you do not feel pain after a hectic week at work. You can also perform yoga poses like Bhujangasana (cobra pose) as well as the Setu Bandhasana (bridge pose) to reduce aches and pains.

Different exercises for the neck, shoulders, chest, upper and lower back, as well as the hips, can help to alleviate some of the pain you may be experiencing. These exercises can also improve your posture, and help you to perform your daily tasks better.

If you find yourself sinking into your chair or have any of the abovementioned habits, the following exercises can help you keep pain at bay.

  1. Hip flexor stretches
  2. Cobra pose/Back extension
  3. Bridge pose
  4. Chest stretch
  5. Cat and cow
  6. Baby pose
  7. Chin tuck

Hip flexor stretches

If you have an inverted (outward) curve in the spine or you walk with your buttocks sticking out, it could be the result of being overweight or walking in heels over a prolonged period. Both can lead to long-term problems. Hip flexor stretches are great to correct the posture you have become habituated to.

How to do it

  • Stand straight with your legs together. Take a big step forward keeping both legs straight.
  • Bend the knee on the leg in front while keeping the back straight. You should feel a stretch in the hip on the opposite leg.
  • Hold the pose for a few seconds before returning to the standing position, and repeat with the other leg.
  • Repeat the movement a few times on both legs.

Cobra pose/Back extension

Also known as Bhujangasana, this yoga exercise helps to strengthen the lower back muscles and stretch the stomach muscles which can cramp up as a result of sitting for long hours during the day. This exercise is particularly helpful for those who stoop while sitting down or standing up.

How to do it

  • Lie down on your stomach with your palms facing the floor on either side of your shoulders and legs straight.
  • Push the hands into the floor and slowly bring your upper body up. Your pelvis and legs stay on the floor.
  • Stretch your upper body as far back as you can go comfortably.
  • Hold the position for a few seconds while continuing to breathe.
  • Slowly lower your body back down to the resting position. Repeat the steps three to five times.

Bridge pose

Also known as Setu Bandhasana, the bridge pose is an effective way to stretch the lower back muscles as well as strengthen the hips. The exercise flexes the chest and upper back muscles as well, and brings relief to people with chronic lower back pain.

How to do it

  • Lie down on your back and fold the knees.
  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart on the mat or floor.
  • Keep your hands, palms-down, on the ground on either side of your body.
  • Push down with your hands as you raise your hips and back off the floor. Your shoulders should still be resting on the floor.
  • At the top of the movement, there should be a straight line from your knees to your stomach all the way down to the shoulders. Hold the position for up to 30 seconds.
  • Repeat the movement at least 10 times.

Chest stretch

A simple yet effective exercise for problems like rounded shoulders and upper back pain is to stretch the chest muscles. The exercise not only alleviates pain and discomfort, but it also makes you aware of your posture, especially while seated.

How to do it

  • Stand straight with your feet slightly apart. Make sure there is space behind you to extend your arms.
  • Hold your hands from behind your back, interlocking your fingers.
  • Expand your chest while pushing the hands as further down as possible behind you.
  • Hold the position for a few seconds before releasing the stretch. Repeat the exercise a few times.

Cat and cow

The cat and cow is a great stretch for those with lower back problems. The reason: it is easy to do, effective for beginners as well as advanced practitioners and you can do these several times a day - even as soon as you get out of bed!

You should start doing the stretch immediately if you notice problems linked to poor posture creeping into your daily life. The cat-and-cow pose engages the whole spine and muscles in the back, stomach and chest.

How to do it

  • Get down on all fours. Your hands should be right underneath your shoulders. And your knees should be in line with the hips.
  • Keep the elbows soft by leaving your arms a little loose.
  • To come into the cat pose first, raise your back to make an upward curve. Bend the head towards the chest.
  • To transition into the cow position, drop your tummy towards the floor. This movement is the reverse of the cat pose and creates a kind of trough or inverted curve with your back. To complete the pose, lift your neck and look up towards the ceiling.
  • Repeat the exercise a few times.

Baby pose

An extremely gentle pose to engage and extend the spine, the baby pose helps to stretch the muscles in the shoulder, back and hips. This exercise is also great to de-stress after a long day at work.

How to do it

  • Get down on all fours.
  • Now push the hips back till they are resting in-between your feet - widen the legs if this is not possible. Your feet should be pointing inwards.
  • Extend your hands out towards the front.
  • With your arms fully stretched in front and touching the ground, bring your head to reach the ground in front of your knees.
  • Hold the position for a few seconds and continue to breathe.
  • Repeat the exercise a few times.

Chin tuck

For those who constantly crane their necks to look down at a computer screen, the chin tuck is an excellent exercise. You can do the exercise several times through the day, even while sitting in your office, to strengthen the neck muscles - especially the back of the neck. The exercise can be done either while sitting down or standing up.

How to do it

  • Keeping your neck straight. Look ahead, push your chin back to create a double chin - you can use your fingers to do this.
  • Hold the "tucked in" position for a few seconds before releasing the tension.
  • Repeat the movement a few times.

While the above-mentioned exercises will relieve tension in your neck, shoulder, back and hip muscles, a few preventive steps at work or even while carrying out daily tasks can go a long way in ensuring better posture through the day.

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Being overweight means you put additional pressure on your lower back as well as other muscle groups in your body. This affects your posture adversely.
  • Keep the computer on a raised platform so that your eyes are in line with the top of the screen, instead of looking downwards.
  • Bring your phone closer to eye level rather than lowering your neck while texting or checking your email.
  • While being seated at your desk, lean slightly forward while keeping the back straight.
  • Get up from your desk and walk around the office floor at regular intervals. It ensures blood flow to different parts of the body isn’t restricted - which can happen is your are sitting down for a long time.
  • Your shoulders tend to be constricted and in front of you, especially while typing for long periods. Stretch your shoulders and chest muscles every now and then.
  • Wear a posture belt underneath your clothes to keep your back straight.
  • Try to do the above-mentioned exercises at least twice a day.

These easy-to-do, light stretching exercises can be done anywhere and at any time. The results of these exercises are not going to be immediate; so make sure that you keep at it. Do these exercises on a daily basis, and more than once a day.

Chronic pain can be debilitating. Exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet as well as being conscious about your posture while carrying out daily tasks can go a long way in staying pain-free.

Read more: Repetitive strain injury

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References

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  3. Grandjean E and Hunting W. Ergonomics of posture Review of various problems of standing and sitting posture. Applied Ergonomics. 1977; 8(3):135-140.
  4. Kim DJ et at. Effect of an exercise program for posture correction on musculoskeletal pain. J Phys Ther Sci. 2015 Jun; 27(6): 1791–1794. PMID: 26180322.
  5. Nejati P et al. The study of correlation between forward head posture and neck pain in Iranian office workers. Int J Occup Med Environ Health. 2015;28(2):295-303. PMID: 26182924.
  6. Health Harvard Publishing: Harvard Medical School [Internet]. Harvard University, Cambridge. Massachusetts. USA; Why good posture matters..
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