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Think about your natural sitting position. Are you hunched over a desk or sitting on one foot while crossing the other? Now think about what a candid photo of you standing at a party would look like. Full Hunchback of Notre Dame? Bad posture happens—and is actually incredibly common. But can you correct posture? You sure can.

First, a quick explanation. Posture is the position in which we hold our bodies while standing, sitting or lying down. Good posture is the correct alignment of body parts supported by the right amount of muscle tension against gravity. 

According to the American Chiropractic Association, good posture:

1. Helps us keep bones and joints in correct alignment so that our muscles are used correctly, decreasing the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could result in degenerative arthritis and joint pain.

2. Reduces the stress on the ligaments holding the spinal joints together, minimizing the likelihood of injury.

3. Allows muscles to work more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy and, therefore, preventing muscle fatigue.

4. Helps prevent muscle strain, overuse disorders, and even back and muscular pain.

5. Can make you happier. According to a study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, patients with mild to moderate depression felt more alert (and less anxious) after simply keeping their back and shoulders upright while sitting. Another study published in the journal Biofeedback found that participants who slouched while walking felt more depressed. When they shifted to a more upright position, their energy levels increased.

But lest you think you’re doomed to a life of slouching over and taking Advil for a sore back, know that it is totally possible to correct bad posture (and work to maintain it). All it takes is practice, and the following tips from experts on how to sit, stand and even sleep with better posture in mind.

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switch handbag shoulders to improve posture
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General Tips for Better Posture

We asked Dr. Kellen Scantlebury of Fit Club Physical Therapy and Sports Performance Center for a few posture rules of thumb.

1. Switch Handbag Shoulders 

Every morning, you grab your phone, keys and swing your purse over one shoulder as you fly out the door. But carrying that extra weight on one side (especially if you schlep around as much junk as we do) can throw off your natural gait and cause muscle and back pain over time, says a study from Teesside University. The solution? Switch your go-to shoulder periodically, clean out your handbag to lighten the load and wear a cross-body style to distribute the weight more evenly.

2. Adjust Your Line of Vision

If you’re constantly hunching over your laptop, it’s time to invest in an elevated computer stand. Dr. Scantlebury notes it’s important to keep your eyes focused directly in front of you to avoid bending your neck and scrunching your shoulders too much throughout the day—it can cause long-term back pain and posture problems.

3. Think About Your Ears

Ever notice your posture while texting? Your head falls forward and your back curves. An easy trick to keep your head from bending over: keep your ears aligned over your shoulders. This will straighten your spine and relieve any undue pressure on your neck, advises Dr. Scantlebury.

4. Stretch 

If you feel yourself starting to sink down into a hunchback, sit up straight and place your left hand on the right side of your head to pull your ear down to your left shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, and then switch sides. Dr. Scantlebury recommends repeating this move twice daily to relieve neck and back tension. If you’re looking for more stretches, check out these 12 moves from celebrity yoga guru Kristin McGee, which will relieve stress and strengthen some of the muscles essential to good posture.

woman sitting at a desk with good posture
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How to Sit with Better Posture

1. Uncross Your Legs

Here’s a helpful tip for keeping your spine straight when you’re sitting: line up your shoulders directly above your hips. We know—cue the eye rolls—but this means uncrossing your legs and keeping your feet flat on the floor. It’s tough at first but sitting with crossed legs all day can be bad news for your lower body and spine.

2. Raise Your Chair

If you sit at a desk all day, your seat is probably too low. To check, make sure your elbows form a 90-degree angle while typing. If not, Dr. Scantlebury suggests raising your chair to relieve pressure on your upper trapezoid muscles, which can get tense from shoulder scrunching.

people working in an office
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How to Stand for Better Posture

When standing, follow these tips from the American Chiropractic Association:

1. Bear your weight primarily on the balls of your feet.

2. Keep your knees slightly bent, and your feet about shoulder-width apart.

3. Let your arms hang naturally down the sides of the body.

4. Stand straight and tall with your shoulders pulled backward.

5. Tuck your stomach in, and keep your head level—your earlobes should be in line with your shoulders. Do not push your head forward, backward or to the side.

6. Shift your weight from your toes to your heels, or one foot to the other, if you have to stand for a long time.

woman sleeping on her back for better posture
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How to Sleep for Better Posture 

Let’s talk about sleep—specifically, the positions you should use and avoid to best support back health and proper posture. We hate to break it to you, but sleeping on your stomach is arguably the worst option. Why? Lying flat on your stomach causes a lot of neck strain (since you have to turn your neck to a 90-degree angle in order to breathe) and flattens the natural curve of your spine, which could lead to lower back pain. If you sleep on your stomach, it’s highly advisable to train yourself to sleep on your side or back.

Side-sleeping is somewhere in the middle, health-wise, and it’s also the most common. Weirdly, it matters which side you sleep on. It’s better to lie on your left side, which may reduce heartburn and improve digestion. So, if you must sleep on your side, make sure it’s on your left and try placing a pillow between your knees to provide extra support for your back.  

If you’re a back sleeper—congratulations, this is the best way. Sleeping in a supine position (on your back), is best for your spine and neck, since you’re maintaining a neutral position and aren’t contorting your body. In a more vain vein, sleeping on your back is also best for preventing wrinkles, since you aren’t smooshing your face into a pillow for eight hours. The only con to back-sleeping is that it could make you more prone to snoring or sleep apnea. If you sleep this way and notice yourself snoring, try propping your head up (but not too much) with a pillow.

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