Shoulders back, chest out. Your mom has told you a million times and, believe it or not, she’s not just saying it to nag—she actually has good reasons. Slouching not only makes you look less attractive, it can also affect your health. And, look around your office, most cube workers are guiltily of bad posture. “People who sit at a desk for a long period of time tend to roll their shoulders in and hang their head forward,” says Dr. Jason Queiros, a Chiropractor at Stamford Sports and Spine in Connecticut. “Every inch you hold your head forward, you add 10 pounds of pressure on your spine. Let’s say you’re leaning into your monitor by just two inches, that’s 20 extra pounds that your back and spinal column have to endure.” How much damage can those 20 pounds cause? Lots!
Constantly holding that extra 20-pound weight forces your neck and back muscles to work overtime. “They become overused and tired,” says Queiros. Then, when you finally relax them (say, at home after work), the muscles tense up and could spasm, causing nasty tension headaches.
A misaligned spine puts extra stress on your jaw joints. The lower jaw shifts forward and the upper and lower teeth don’t fit together properly. This can cause lower jaw pains as well as muscle pains in the back of the head.
Picture your comfiest position when you’re driving a car or sitting in your desk chair: Chances are, you favor one side of your body and lean toward it. “The muscles on that side are taking the brunt of your weight and stress,” warns Queiros. With poor posture, one side of your body is tight and spastic and the other side is loose. “That will throw off your body’s biomechanics.”
Spine alignment issues
If your spine isn’t aligning properly, it can affect your rib cage, which can damage your heart and lungs, and ultimately lead to gastrointestinal issues. It’s easy to slouch if you’re not constantly thinking about your posture (in fact, you’re probably even doing it while you read this article), but there’s good news: Your slouch is reversible. “As long as you catch it before you’re a 60-year-old decrepit man,” jokes Queiros. Of course you’ll need to arrange your desk properly (get a headset for your phone, center your monitor, lower your armrests, etc.), but there are also some easy exercises you can do to help correct your slouch and get your mind thinking about posture.
Scapula retraction is a fancy way of saying to squeeze your shoulder blades together. “People kill their chest at the gym but you’ve got to work out your back as well,” Queiros points out. Grab resistance bands in front of you and pull the bands to your chest. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and concentrate on stretching your upper back. Come back to your natural position and repeat in three sets of 20.
Sitting at your desk, suck in your chin. (“It’ll feel like you’re giving yourself a double chin,” says Queiros.) Feel the stretch in the back of your skull and then relax. Do a set of 10 to 20 at least three or five times throughout the day.
Small neck stretches
To loosen up the muscles at the base of your neck while sitting at your desk, bring one ear to your shoulder and let the weight of your head hang. With your opposite arm, grab the bottom of your chair and pull up while your head still hangs—you’ll feel the stretch in the exposed side of your neck—hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side and do the entire stretch three or four times a day.
Extended arm stretch
Put your arms behind your back and lock your hands together. Bring your arms out and let your head hang down. Hold for 30 seconds and feel your neck and shoulder stretch. Repeat three or four times a day. And a few things to remember at work: Take a 20-minute break every four hours and take five-minute micro-breaks every 30 minutes. Get up and walk around and refresh your position. “You don’t want to be in the same position for more than 30 minutes,” says Queiros.