When people think about posture, it usually makes sense to them that bad posture can lead to things like neck pain, lower back pain or headaches. In an earlier video that can be found on our website, I even discussed how bad posture can lead to other health problems such as digestive issues, and can even increase your risk of death. But can having bad posture also put you in a bad mood? In this blog post, I’ll discuss how your posture can affect your moods, and give you some tips on how to improve your posture and as a result, boost your mood.
How Posture Affects Your Hormones
Our moods are greatly influenced by a number of hormones released by our body. Two hormones in particular, cortisol and testosterone, have been greatly linked to stress and our confidence, or lack thereof. Cortisol, a hormone released by the adrenal glands, located on top of your kidney, is commonly known as THE stress hormone. Increased levels of cortisol have been linked to high levels of stress as well as multiple mood disorders. Testosterone, although commonly thought of as a male hormone, is produced by both male and female reproductive organs. Higher levels of testosterone have been linked to increased confidence in both men and women. But what do any of these hormones have to do with posture?
In a study that she discussed in a popular TED talk, Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy found a link to how levels of cortisol and testosterone can be affected by our body language and posture. If you have never watched the talk, here is the link, I highly recommend it.
In her study, Cuddy tested levels of cortisol and testosterone both before and after having subjects sit or stand in a number of poses for two minutes. “Low power poses,” those where someone would sit in a slouched position with poor posture, led to an increase in cortisol levels and decrease in testosterone levels. Meaning they felt more stress and less confident after sitting with poor posture for only two minutes! Think about how long you sit every day, what do you think that does to your hormone levels, and as a result, how does that make you feel?
In contrast, “high power poses,” sitting or standing with improved posture, were linked to a twenty percent increase in testosterone levels and a twenty five percent decrease in cortisol. By sitting or standing with good posture for only two minutes, they were able to make themselves more confident and less stressed! Pretty amazing, right?
So, How Do You Improve Posture?
As much as I wish that there were one, quick easy answer to this question, there simply is not. Just like your bad posture didn’t begin overnight, it also can not be corrected by making a single change. Improving your posture will take effort over a period time, but it can be done! Good places to start when looking to improve your posture are your desk at work and the way you sleep. Since we spend such a large portion of our day in these two places, they can have a huge impact on our posture. If you need some help with ergonomics or sleeping positions, be sure to check out my blog post where I gave you tips on how to improve the way you sit and sleep.
Although changing your ergonomics and sleeping in a proper position can make a huge positive impact on your posture, these changes likely won’t be enough on their own. In addition to these changes, you will likely also need to add stretches and strengthening exercises to your normal routine.
Stretches That Improve Posture
When we sit in front of a computer for a large portion of our day, or spend a lot of time on our smartphones, the muscles in the back of our neck get long, but the muscles in the front of our neck get very short. This commonly leads to anterior, or forward, head carriage, which can lead to neck and upper back pain.
The most common way I see people try to stretch their neck is by putting their chin to their chest and applying pressure to the back of the head. If you have forward head carriage, this is the worst stretch you can do for your neck! All you are doing is stretching muscles that are already too long, thus making the problem worse. The stretch that I recommend in this case focuses on the muscles in the front of the neck that are shorter than they should be in people with poor posture. To stretch the muscles in the front of the neck, take one arm, reach across your body and grasp your collar bone. Now apply gentle pressure down on your collar bone and lean your head back and to the opposite side. Hold for about thirty seconds and then repeat for the opposite side. This stretch helps reverse the effects of forward head posture and can help relieve neck and upper back pain.
Most people do not realize that their lower back pain can also be a result of their bad posture. When you sit for long periods, the hamstring and gluteal muscles become tight, which can lead to lower back pain. Stretching these two muscle groups is extremely important when it comes to your posture. To stretch your hamstrings, simply sit on the edge of a bed or couch with one of your legs straight out in front of you and reach for your toes. Hold for at least 45 seconds for each leg. To stretch your gluteal muscles, lay on your back, bend one knee and pull the knee across your body to the opposite shoulder. Again, hold this stretch on each leg for at least 45 seconds. Patients are always amazed at how much their lower back pain improves with just these two stretches!
Again, stretches alone won’t improve your posture either. When the muscles in your neck and back become tight because of bad posture, they will commonly pull your spine out of its normal alignment. For this reason, regular chiropractic care is also important to help improve your posture and as result, your moods.
Poor posture can affect your body in a number of different ways. Not only can it cause neck and back pain, it can also affect your moods. By implementing some ergonomic changes, stretching properly, and getting adjusted, you can not only improve your posture, but you just might be happier as well.