As owner of Perry Smith Fitness Concepts in Nashville, Perry Smith has 25 years of experience in areas of fitness and biomechanics. Over the course of his career in fitness, Perry Smith has gained insight into a wide range of topics, from running shoes to healthy posture.
How we sit and how we stand affects our health and the impression we make on other people. We can all probably remember our parents and teachers nagging and reminding us to “sit up straight” when we were growing up. But who knew they would be right all along?
There are two kinds of posture:
- Dynamic posture refers to the way we hold ourselves when moving, such as when we are walking, running, or bending over to pick up something.
- Static posture refers to the way we hold ourselves when we are not moving, such as when we are sitting, standing, or sleeping.
Body language experts have observed that people who are hunched over with slumped shoulders appear to be timid and submissive. From Michelangelo’s David to David Beckham, idealized images of the human form, and its real-life personifications, display certain common features – wide shoulders, standing tall and erect with the head and chin up.
A proper posture inspires leadership and authority. There is a reason most of our political and military leaders and senior executives seem to stand taller than the average American, in actual height and in physical presence. It’s not simply that we “admire” height, although that may be part of the explanation, it’s that we perceive “uprightness” as a sign of strength and power. It’s evolutionary, and it has had a revolutionary impact on how we choose our leaders – in sports, businesses and politics.
A survey of Fortune 500 CEO height revealed that they were on average 6 feet (1.83 meters) tall, which is approximately 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) taller than the average American man.
About 30 percent were 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 meters) tall or more. By comparison, only 3.9 percent of the overall United States population is 6 foot 2 inches or more.
The last United States president under six feet was Jimmy Carter at 5 foot 10 inches tall – that was nearly 45 years ago. To find the last time America elected a “short” president, you would have to go back to 1948, when Harry S. Truman narrowly defeated Thomas Dewey.
A study by Scott Wiltermuth, assistant professor of management organization at the USC Marshall School of Business, and Vanessa K. Bohns, postdoctoral fellow at the J.L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto titled “It Hurts When I Do This (or You Do That)” published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that by simply adopting more dominant poses, people feel more powerful, in control and able to tolerate more distress.
In addition to being good for your self-image and influencing how others may perceive you, proper posture can help prevent excess strain on your joints, muscles and spine — reducing pain and lessening the probability of injury.
In an article published by Harvard Medical School, “Good posture is important to balance: by standing up straight, you center your weight over your feet. This also helps you maintain correct form while exercising, which results in fewer injuries and greater gains. And working on balance can even strengthen your abilities in tennis, golf, running, dancing, skiing — and just about any other sport or activity.”
Back pain is the third most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office. Back pain accounts for more than 264 million lost work days in one year—that’s two work days for every full-time worker in the country.
“Living with poor posture can result in a wide range of effects on the body, all of them negative,” explains Perry Smith from his Nashville office. “While back, neck, and shoulder pain may be obvious symptoms of bad posture, less discussed and more serious complications range from diminished lung capacity to persistent headaches and jaw pain. Individuals living with these symptoms who have also observed a pot belly and hunched back may be suffering the effects of poor posture.”
“While chronic back pain and other severe symptoms likely require professional support, there are several simple steps individuals can take to improve their posture in their daily lives. When walking or standing, a person should place most of their weight on the balls of their feet, shoulder-length apart, and keep their knees slightly bent. Shoulders should be pulled back, with head level and stomach tucked in. When standing in place for prolonged periods, it is advisable to shift weight from the balls of the feet to the toes, back and forth.”
Fitness routines that focus on strengthening large muscle groups can help correct poor posture. Holding the body in proper alignment prevents injury during workouts and slouching throughout the day. Without training, the body will engage muscles unevenly. This imbalance can cause or exacerbate bad posture. Strength training, which engages muscles through weights and resistance, is an effective way to counteract poor posture.
Individuals who have poor posture tend to place pressure on their lower back. Strength training routines that target the abdominal area and upper back can develop the muscles that support the spine, which lessens the burden on the lower back. Weight or resistance training can also lengthen and build up chest muscles, which shorten and stiffen when individuals sit in a hunched position for prolonged periods.
“Healthy posture in a seated position,” instructs Perry Smith, “involves sitting with feet planted on the ground or a stand, refraining from crossing legs or ankles, and sitting so that the knees are level with or below the hips. Individuals should focus on supporting the mid and lower back while seated. Individuals sitting for long periods of time should shift their position and weight from time to time.”