If someone has ordered you to “stand up straight” at some point in your life, you are in good company. Let’s be real: It is nearly impossible to practice perfect posture 100% of the time. However, if slouching, slumping, or hunching over is more common for you than not, you need to reconsider your stance. After all, good posture is one of the keys to avoiding long-term health issues including pain, injury, digestion issues, and breathing complications, per the National Institutes of Health.
You might be wondering: What does good posture look like, anyway? The NIH explains that good posture starts with the position of your spine. “Your spine has three natural curves: at your neck, mid back, and low back,” they write on their website. In order to execute correct posture, you should “maintain these curves, but not increase them” with your head above your shoulders, and the top of your shoulder above the hips.
“As the old saying goes, 'the weight of the world is on our shoulders.' To be precise, the gravity of the world is on our shoulders," says Robin Raju, DO, a Yale Medicine physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist (aka physiatrist). Interestingly, Raju points out that “All of us in our resting postures have shoulders stooped forward/rounded in order to not fight the gravity.”
This is why achieving good posture might take a little work, in the form of some easy exercises and moves. And, according to science, spending as little as 60 minutes a week on posture-improving exercise can effectively relieve pain associated with your slouching-habits.
While it might seem too easy to be true, Raju maintains that the most efficient “exercise” of all is simply standing up straight and practicing good posture: While sitting or standing, one should keep the shoulders retracted or in neutral position, while keeping the lumbar spine and neck in a neutral position also.
“Keeping the shoulders stooped forward requires far fewer calories than keeping it retracted. Keeping the shoulder retracted with a neutral spine is the best posture exercise—those who do this consistently may not reap any benefit today or tomorrow, but sure will in 10 years,” he explains. “Micro-trauma done to the body every single second of the hour will sure add up in the long run.”
Below, 10 doctor-recommended exercises to help improve your posture.
This easy exercise can be done during your daily tasks, explains Raju. “This can also be done lying down on your stomach with your forehead on a pillow,” he adds.
- While sitting in a chair, gently draw your shoulder blades together towards the back as far as possible.
- Ease about halfway from this position and hold for 15 seconds.
- Breathe in and out very slowly, while keeping your neck neutral and relaxed, your low back neutral, and avoiding raising the shoulders.
- Relax for 15 seconds.
- Repeat 10 times every hour.
Raju suggests this exercise—as well as the next three—which are all recommended by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Spine Conditioning Program.
- Lie on your back with knees bent and hands on the floor.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles so that they pull away from the waistline, aiming to have your lower back touch the floor.
- Hold for 15 seconds.
- Exhale and inhale very slowly without moving the abdominal muscles.
- Relax for 15 seconds.
- Repeat 10 times.
Supine Hamstring Stretch
- Lie on the floor with both knees bent.
- Lift one leg off of the floor and bring the knee toward your chest. Clasp your hands behind your thigh below your knee.
- Straighten your leg and then pull it gently toward your head until you feel a stretch. If you have difficulty clasping your hands behind your leg, loop a towel around your thigh. Grasp the ends of the towel and pull your leg toward you.
- Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and then relax for 30 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side, then repeat the entire sequence four times.
Hip Abduction Exercise
- Lie on your side with both legs straight.
- Keep your whole body in a straight line
- Slowly raise your top leg to a 45-degree angle. Keep your knee straight, but not locked. Do not turn your leg in an effort to raise it higher—the outside of your thigh should be lifted toward the ceiling.
- Hold this position for 5 seconds.
- Slowly lower your leg and rest for 2 seconds.
- Repeat 10 times; complete exercise on the other side.
- Sit in a chair or stand with your weight evenly distributed on both feet.
- Gently bring your chin toward your chest.
- Roll your head to the right and turn so that your ear is over your shoulder. Hold for 5 seconds.
- Gently roll your head back toward your chest and to the left. Turn your head so that your ear is over your left shoulder and hold for 5 seconds.
- Slowly roll your head back and in a clockwise circle three times.
- Reverse directions and slow roll your head in a counterclockwise circle three times.
Note: Do not shrug your shoulders up during this exercise.
Martin Ridley, DPT, with Tru Whole Care, recommends this simple stretch, which will open the chest and extend your mid-back.
- Place your thumbs under your armpits with your fingertips pointed up to the ceiling.
- Tilt your head back and lift your thumbs up as high as possible.
Standing Abdominal Stretch
- Stand up
- Raise your arms above your head
- Lean your torso backward, but not too far back. “A 30-degree angle will suffice,” says Ridley, who recommends doing this exercise several times per day for best results.
Standing Side Stretch
This stretch, recommended by Ridley, is easy and can be repeated as desired.
- Stand tall with feet and legs together.
- Relax your shoulder away from your ears and look forward.
- Reach both arms overhead and interlace your fingers while leaving your index fingers extended and pointed toward the ceiling in steeple grip as used in yoga.
- Gently bend your body to the right.
- Pull your left arm over to the right side of the room.
- Return to the center and repeat on the other side.
Hanging Shoulder Stretch
For this stretch, recommended by Ridley, a door frame is needed.
- Stand in a doorframe and hold on to each side.
- Place your arms slightly at shoulder level.
- Hold tight as you lean forward outside of the doorway until your arms are straight.
This popular yoga pose can do wonders for your posture, explains Ridley.
- Come to your hands and knees on the floor or mat.
- Spread your knees as wide as your mat, keeping the tops of your feet on the floor with the big toes touching.
- Bring your belly to rest between your thighs and root your forehead to the floor.
- Stretch your arms in front of you with the palms toward the floor or bring your arms back alongside your thighs, with the palms facing upwards.