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Is posture just about looking good; standing tall and upright?

Could upright posture make me feel better, less stressed, function better, less depressed and even favour happy thoughts? Yikes … that is some big talk! Well … there have been studies into all of these areas.

Let’s dig in.

Why poor posture is causing you stress

When there is good, upright posture, there is symmetry, balance and alignment in the human frame. Pressures and forces are evenly distributed and your movement is economical. However, when your frame shifts into poor posture (shoulders rounded forward, head shifted in front of the spine, and or a curved upper back) the body becomes overworked in some areas and underworked in others. Your body can become distressed and under pressure in this state. How can this relate to stress?

When there is a perceived or real threat (take your pick from a bear chasing you in the woods or deadline in work), the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and primes you for a suitable response. This is the stress response. It is normal and necessary for our survival. Lots of things happen in this complex cascade of reactions to prime the body. However, one particular area stimulated is the red nucleus in the brain. Its job is to prepare you to either fight (shoulders round forward, head pushed forward) or to run away (hamstrings and calves tighten).

This is all normal and part of years of evolving to cope with danger. However, what about if you just assume this posture while reading your emails or queuing in the supermarket? This type of posture, shoulders slouched, head forward, simulates the same physical response as there would be in danger. As a result the red nucleus kicks in and switches on unnecessarily. Even though you know you are not in any actual danger it still turns on the fight or flight response because it is involuntary and it seems as if it’s in danger.

If you are assuming poor slouched posture on a regular basis, that switch is being turned on more and more often. What can happen then is you are spending more time in the fight or flight response than the resting/recovering/digesting side of your nervous system. Your poor posture is driving you into what is referred to as “sympathetic dominance”. One side of your involuntary nervous system can enter into chronic overdrive and your body is no longer in a balanced state. It is important to add that sympathetic dominance is not only caused by assuming poor posture. Lots of other reactions are involved in feeding into your stress response to push the system into overdrive.

Could my poor posture make me more tired?

Try this.

Slouch over.


Round your shoulder and slump forward. Get into really poor posture.

Now take a deep breath in and out.

Ok, now change and get into an upright posture.

Wherever you are reading this, change, sit up tall and straight.

Now, take another deep breath.

Question: which position was it easier to take a deep breath?

For most of us we will find it is much easier to take a deep full breath while in an upright position. Poor alignment in that slumped position means your diaphragm (your main breathing muscle) can’t work as easily making it hard to get air in. Plus your rounded shoulders constrict the ribs movement during the breathing cycle. They are not in their preferred position. Less air flowing into your lungs means less oxygen for the body. Your cells rely on oxygen to function and less of it means they can’t function optimally. Eventually making it harder for your body and brain to function. So this can manifest for you as feelings of tiredness and a foggy brain.

However, your amazing brain and body will try its best to get inflow of oxygen, despite your poor posture. To do that it has to recruit its “back up” breathing muscles around your neck to help inhale in an added attempt to get air travelling down into the lungs. It is not ideal but your body needs oxygen so it will compensate. However, these overworked neck muscles are a contributing factor to your postural aches and pains in your neck. They are doing double the work they are designed for!!

Poor Posture Creates More Than Just Muscle Tension

So we know that poor posture can reduce oxygen intake and set off your stress response (not forgetting the aches and pains that can appear from chronic poor posture also), what about making you feel better?

A study from 2015 looked at comparing participants assigned upright posture and slumped posture and their responses to a psychological stress task. They found that those in an upright seated posture in the face of stress maintained self-esteem and increased positive mood compared to a slumped posture. Another study I came across (which has potential for further developed research) suggests that having an upright posture may increase positivity, reduce tiredness and decrease self-focus in people with mild-to-moderate depression.

Another study looked at whether it was easier to think happy thoughts in an upright posture or slumped posture. Whilst was a small study (just 24 people), 92% indicated it was easiest to generate positive thoughts in the upright position!! Read more here.

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A study released just last year (2019) looked at the effects of an upright versus slumped walking posture on psychological and physiological states when confronted with a psychological stressor. The upright walking posture group showed significantly improved psychological states including less sleepiness and less pain than the slumped walking posture group. Physiologically, the upright walking posture group showed significantly lower blood pressure than the slumped group. Read more here.

Next time you are out and about, observe people’s posture.

Most are standing or sitting around slouched or hunching over. Originally, the hunched over posture was stereotype of the aged individual. However, this poor posture is getting more common throughout all age groups. Kids and adults alike spend hours on computers, tablets, phones and other devices.

Read more about kids back health and school bags.

What can I do to improve my poor posture?

Take a break

Lots of health professionals nickname them “movement snacks”. Just like you get up to get a drink or a food snack … take a movement snack. It can help reset our postural muscles.

Good Ergonomics

For those of us that use computers for work, we need to embrace good ergonomics. A well set up work station and disciplined user has the potential to improve posture. Check out a previous blog where I go into details on ergonomics.

Check in with your stress levels

Checking your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) with a monitoring app like “Welltory” can start to help you tune into when you are overdoing it. High HRV means your body is physically in a resilient state and coping well with the demands of the day. Low HRV means your body is under stress, even if you don’t consciously recognise it. Learn more about HRV here.

Seek support from a health professional

I am very encouraging of people taking responsibility for their own health and being in the driving seat. However, sometimes you need the support of an expert, when a concern has become too much despite your best efforts. I have a whole health and body philosophy to my treatments. My plan of care generally includes tailored advice on stress management, nutrition, exercise, posture advice, sleep quality and in-house gentle, safe manual therapy to restore balance and alignment in your body.

I first went to Treasa’s to get some treatment in my back, I had pain in my chest and ribs for few weeks and I decided to give it a go. I realized some of that pain came from my hips and some daily postures I had to improved. I felt some relief after few sessions and also Treasa show me some tips to have a better posture. I felt I had a healing and well being process of my own body at the same time. I also had a couple of sessions of sound therapy and I really enjoyed the holistic part of them. Highly recommend it and I would definitely be back next time I feel my back is not in a great form.
Elita Martinez – May 2020
Read more testimonials

While it always looks better to stand straight, the importance of posture deals with far more than just that. I hope this blog post has given you some food for thought and perhaps even connected the dots on how interconnected all our systems are. Our posture plays an important role in overall health.

If you have any further questions regarding this topic please do not hesitate to contact the clinic.

To learn more about my style of care pop over here.

Finally, the information provided here is not intended to replace individual medical advice. If you have any questions regarding the above information or if you wish to book an appointment with me, please contact me here, message me on Facebook or on 087 1815007.

Call today to arrange your first visit!

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Natural Back Health is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

The clinic is located at: The Wisdom Centre, Sophia House, 25 Cork Street, Dublin 8.

COVID19 Update at Natural Back Health

***Re-opened following recent COVID19 restrictions***

Treasa would like to thank all her clients for their patience over this period and for their continued support and custom.

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