Your mom nagged you to “stand up straight” and for good reason. Poor posture can actually harm your health, experts say, leading to a host of problems. According to Harvard Health, we have a major posture problem in America as a result of our sedentary lives and constant use of phones and tablets that create a slouch in our shoulders, curving the spine forward instead of in a preferred neutral position.
While poor posture causes back and neck problems for most people, it also may cause three surprising other health woes.
- Incontinence. Poor posture can cause stress incontinence says Meghan Markowski, a physical therapist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. who deals with bladder problems. “Slouching increases abdominal pressure, which in turn puts pressure on the bladder,” she notes. So, you may find that you leak a little urine when your cough of laugh. The expert recommends strengthening the pelvic floor muscles by doing squats and Kegel maneuvers like pelvic tilts.
- Constipation. Poor posture on a toilet with your knees lower than your hips can promote constipation. This position makes it harder to have a bowel movement, says Markowski. Use a stool to keep your knees higher than your hips and keep a straight, neutral spine. You also buy a handy device called the Squatty Potty, which is ergonomically designed to help you eliminate faster and more effectively.
- Heartburn and slowed digestion. Slouched posture after a meal can trigger heartburn caused by acid reflux — when the stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus. Experts say that slouching may even slow down the process of digestion. If digestive problems are interfering with your daily life and you suspect that poor posture if the cause, seek help from a physical therapist who can teach you how to better align your spine with specific exercises. The goal is to establish a straight, neutral spine by developing core strength and flexibility.
Markowski recommends some general posture pointers. She suggests keeping your shoulders down and back, pulling your head back and engaging your core muscles.
“Bring your belly button in toward your spine as if you’re zipping up a tight pair of jeans,” she says. “This will help engage the transverse abdominal muscle which acts like a corset around the spine.”
Use a back or lumbar support pillow for your lower spine when you sit in a chair to remind you to keep your spine erect. Make sure your change your position every 30 to 60 minutes. “We don’t want people in fixed posture for hours at a time,” says Markowski. You can also use a kneeling chair sit on a large stability ball if you spend a great deal of time at a desk or computer. These tools can help you keep your spine in a neutral position as well as engage your core.
“Be vigilant and good posture will contribute to all aspects of health,” says the expert.
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