5 Reasons Slouching & Sitting For Too Long Is Affecting Your Health & Productivity
We all remember our mothers lecturing us to “sit up straight with your shoulders back”. And, even though she probably never explained why, believe it or not, she had legitimate reasons for telling us to do so.
For years now I’ve been using laptop stands and stand-up desks while working my 9-5, and overtime, I started to notice improvements in how I felt both physically and mentally - but could never figure out why. The more I investigated the subjects of bad posture, the “screen slouch” phenomenon, and the negative effects they can have on our physical and mental health, the more intrigued I became.
Studies have shown that slouching and bad posture not only makes you look less attractive and less confident, but it also has several negative effects on our physical and mental health. And, if we take a quick glance around the office, we’ll most likely find the majority of our colleagues are guilty of this bad habit too.
“Every inch you hold your head forward, you add 10 pounds of extra pressure on your spine” says Dr. Jason Queiros, a leading Chiropractor at Stamford Sports and Spine. While headaches, back and neck conditions top the list of potential problems from bad posture, there are a number of others. If you find that you’re slouching often or sitting for lengthy periods of time, we’ve outlined five of the most common negative effects of bad posture that will motivate you to sit up straight!
1. Headaches and Back, Neck & Shoulder Pain
The most common and noticeable side effects from slouching and bad posture are soreness and pain. These can manifest anywhere from headaches, back, neck and/or shoulder pain. Let’s say most of us lean forward by even an extra 2 inches, holding that extra 20 pounds of pressure on your neck and back muscles causes them to work overtime. When you finally relax the muscles after long periods of slouching or sitting, the muscles tend to tense up and even occasionally spasm which can result in tension headaches. The tight back and neck muscles also compromise the natural curvature of the spine which can send pain radiating up to the head.
When you have poor posture, you might find yourself leaning forward towards the screen so it should be no surprise that changing your spine’s natural curves will cause back pain. Long term, it can even cause disk degeneration due to the disks between the vertebrae thinning out and losing their cushioning.
"Ideally, a healthy head and neck relationship would align a person's ear with his or her shoulder when viewing them from the side” advises Mark Gugliotti, assistant Professor of Physical Therapy at New York Institute of Technology School of Health Professions. But be careful not to over-correct wrongly by pulling your shoulders back too far as this can also be a cause of muscle tension and stiffness.
2. Poor Circulation
If you sit for hours in a chair with bad posture, particularly if it’s daily (which most of us do), you’re putting yourself at a higher risk of developing, or worsening, circulation problems. By sitting with poor posture all day, you’re keeping your body from delivering the necessary blood flow and circulation it requires. Poor posture can also make you vulnerable to varicose veins overtime.
"When you sit all day with poor posture, you're preventing your body from getting the necessary circulation it needs," says Valentina Sendin, Ergonomic Project Manager for Kaiser Permanente Southern California. Take time to be more active when sitting down, make gradual and frequent posture changes throughout the day, stand up, stretch and walk. "Taking the time to move throughout the day and making postural changes can not only help you have better posture; it can prevent you from serious health issues later in life." says Valentina.
3. Poor Digestion
If you work a desk job you know how easy it is to let your neck and shoulders slouch over your chest and abdomen and this is especially detrimental after a meal. When you slouch, you compress and squeeze your abdominal organs, including your digestive tract, which can trigger heartburn and acid reflux.
"Slouching puts pressure on the abdomen, which can force stomach acid in the wrong direction and evidence suggests that transit in the intestines slows down when you slouch.” explains Dr. Kyle Staller, a Gastroenterologist at Harvard Massachusetts General Hospital.
Over time, this can negatively impact your metabolism and your ability to digest foods properly, potentially resulting in nutritional deficiency and digestive upset. Correcting your posture helps your body process food efficiently which is just another reason it is essential that you try your best to keep your back straight.
4. Less Motivation & Fatigue
When slouching, you may appear less confident or shy, which can affect both social and work situations. Studies have shown bad posture is correlated to low self-esteem and lack of confidence, but less motivation can also stem from this. Because bad posture constricts the body, it can lead to depleted energy levels and increased stress levels which subsequently strains the body. This strain leads to energy depletion and fatigue, which is apparent in the joints, ligaments, bones, and muscles. Due to the extra stress levels, bad posture makes the physical body work more than good posture.
"When we have poor posture, we add tension and compression to structures that weren't meant to bear that weight. These stresses and strains build up over time and wear down our bones, joints and ligaments, even changing the way our muscles fire," says Dr. Stacey Pierce-Talsma, a Professor of Osteopathic Medicine at Touro University in Vallejo, California. "Not only can poor posture add stress and strain, it can also cause you to become fatigued more quickly. This occurs because poor posture and gait require much more energy and work to maintain and compensate for. The more efficient we can be in our good posture, movement and gait, the more we can improve our energy efficiency."
5. Negative Mood & Increased Stress
Research has shown the effects of poor posture affects our body in many different ways, not only physically but also emotionally. As good posture helps prevent depression, bad posture increases the likeliness of suffering from it. A study published in the journal Health Psychology reports that individuals who sat with a slouched or slumped posture exhibited more fear, lower self-esteem, and worse moods than those who sat upright.
As you close off your body from proper circulation, you are restricting bodily functions which ultimately leave you with depleted energy. This lack of energy manifests into irritability and higher levels of stress. Research from a study published in the Journal of Behaviour Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry found that "adopting an upright posture may increase positive affect, reduce fatigue and decrease self-focus" in people with mild to moderate depression.
Those with better posture are more inclined to be perceived as having a more positive outlook. When we’re told to look our best for an interview - No crossed legs, chest puffed out, back straight and no slouching - it’s not just to look good, it's to do you good.
Moral of the Story! Listen to our mothers. It turns out she does know best.
Practically, there are several changes we can make to improve our posture and long term physical and mental health. As mentioned above, we can make little adjustments such as keeping our ears in line with our shoulders, not flexed too far forward and not too far backwards. Try keeping the knees higher than the hips, even it means placing your feet on a footstool.
If you sit at a desk all day, there are some simple improvements we can make here too. Make sure your screen is at eye level and not placed too close and not too far; whether it’s a laptop stand or even a stack of books, forcing yourself to look up at your screen will dramatically improve your posture. Use a separate keyboard and mouse, keep your screen at arm’s length and make sure you have a stable base for your arms.
I really do believe it is important to place emphasis on good posture and, even though it may take constant reminders, good posture will be beneficial in the long run!