Your Guide to Better Posture January 03 2014

What if someone told you there was a way to add height to your frame, trim some flab from around your middle, and look more vibrant -- instantly, and without spending a cent? You'd sign up, right away, of course.

The truth is, you can get all these benefits from following a simple bit of advice your mother gave you long ago: Stand up straight.

In the rush to become leaner, stronger, healthier versions of our former selves, many of us neglect our posture. Yet fitness experts who spoke to WebMD say posture is an essential part of the way we look and feel.

Why Posture Matters

The No. 1 reason to stand tall? It looks better.

"When we're slumped over, our folds of excess flab are bunched together," says Lynn Millar, PhD, PT, a professor of physical therapy at Andrews University and a fellow at the American College of Sports Medicine.

The opposite is true, too.

"Good posture makes you look younger, thinner, and taller," says Rebecca Gorrell, a movement therapist at the famed Canyon Ranch Spa. "Other people will see you as more energetic and relaxed."

But that's not all. Good posture, as it turns out, is good for you.

Most people hunch over when they stand, or sit with one leg crossed over the other, notes Breibart. "This creates compression, by stretching certain ligaments too much and others not enough, throwing the body out of balance," she explains.

When we improve our posture and relieve this compression, bodily benefits naturally follow, according to Breibart: "The internal organs function properly, respiration deepens, the joints are lubricated, blood flows properly."

A balanced body also helps keep joint pain at bay. "Most clinicians agree that people with good posture tend to have fewer muscle imbalances and in turn, less joint pain," Millar says.

For people who suffer from certain health conditions, posture takes on special significance. Good posture may also make for easier breathing for people with asthma.

What Does Good Posture Look Like?

In ideal posture, everything is lined up -- from the top of your head to the toes of your feet -- so that you're not having to resist gravity in a way that exhausts the body.

How do you achieve ideal posture?

"Think of pulling the entire body up, as with a string," Millar advises. From a side view, that invisible string would follow right behind and through the ear, just behind the midline of the neck, down through the shoulder joint and the hip joint, then slightly in front of the knee's midline, and in front of the ankle joint. Look in the mirror. You can't fix your posture unless you can see it.