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11 Tips to Get Perfect Posture

When you carry yourself well, you'll not only look your best but you'll feel a whole lot better too. Here's your guide to the right kind of stance.

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Good posture makes you look taller, slimmer, and more confident. And it has health benefits, preventing back, neck, hip, and knee pain and giving your diaphragm and rib cage more room to expand when you breathe. But good posture can be elusive. "If you make little changes throughout the day that involve your pelvis, legs, and feet, you can create a foundation for better posture," says Mary Bond, author of The New Rules of Posture: How to Sit, Stand, and Move in the Modern World.

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Sitting

We sit virtually all day long with only an occasional stroll from house to car, desk to cafeteria, sofa to bed. "We were built to move, not stay in one position all day," says Dr. Stacy Shoemaker, a rehabilitation specialist at SpineCare Medical Group in Daly City, California. "And we weren't built to sit upright in a chair all day." Because it's pretty much impossible to avoid chairs, the next best thing is to sit using good posture principles.

  • Start by uncrossing your legs and planting your feet on the floor, says occupational therapist Deborah Read, president of ErgoFit Consulting Inc., in Seattle.
  • Then adjust your chair height so your hips are slightly higher than your knees. This will create a slight downward slope of your thighs. "If you're doing it properly, your weight will be evenly distributed in the chair between your feet, thighs, hips, and low back," says Read.
  • Your shoulders should be relaxed and open. Your abdominal muscles should be firm but not too tight.
  • Your head and neck should be in line with your spine.
  • Maintaining this position is much easier when your keyboard and computer monitor are in the right positions. "Both should be right in front of you, not off to the side," advises Shoemaker. "Your screen should be at eye level, so you don't have to bend your neck up or down."
  • Too many people use laptops and have to hunch over to see the screens. If you do data entry, put the work you're copying from on a clip at eye level so you don't have to bend your neck to see it."

Check It

"Every once in a while, place one hand behind the small of your back to see if there's still a curve there," Read says. If there isn't, consider using a lumbar support cushion. Every half hour or so, take a break from sitting. Get up and walk around for a minute or two. This keeps your hamstrings and lower back from tightening up and pulling your spine out of alignment.

Feel It

You'll notice your thighs more now that you're not crossing your legs. No, they haven't grown, it's just that you're more aware of them. That's natural, so don't let it bother you.

Standing

"A healthy spine has an inward curve in the lower back, an outward curve at the shoulder blades, and another inner curve at the neck," says Shoemaker.

  • To achieve this alignment, plant your bare feet on the floor a few inches apart.
  • Distribute your weight evenly between your feet. "Most people put their weight on their heels. Bring your body weight forward enough so you feel your weight evenly distributed through all of each foot," says author Mary Bond. "You'll feel your chest and abdomen move forward a bit when you do this."
  • Keep knees slightly bent. "When you lock your knees, you tip your pelvis forward and squeeze the discs in the lower lumbar region of the back," says Read.
  • "Gently pull your belly button toward your spine. This forms a foundation of stability." Your shoulders should be relaxed, not hunched or rounded.
  • Keep your head and neck in line with your shoulders, your chin parallel to the floor.

Check It

Roll up a small bath towel, then stand against a wall using good posture. "Put the rolled towel into the curve of your lower back," says Shoemaker. "It should just fit. This exercise will help you get the feeling for that curve."

Feel It

You may feel taller and lighter -- and a bit awkward if you're accustomed to slouching. "You may also feel very conscious of your breasts, which may feel more prominent now," says Bond.

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