Before sitting down, know tips for better posture

Over time, long hours spent sitting down in front of a computer can lead to poor posture and affect the alignment of our bodies. In light of October being National Physical Therapy Month, now is the time to become aware of ways poor habits can be corrected early on in a person’s life.

*1. Look up*

Students who are studying for their midterms may head to their designated study area, spread out all of their materials and get to work. But with all the hours spent staring at a computer screen or looking down at note cards, a student may develop poor posture without even realizing it.

“A lot of times, if students are working on a laptop, their screen is aligned so that they are looking down at their computer,” kinesiology professor Jacob Sosnoff said. “This can cause pain to develop in your neck and lower back and shoulders.”

To avoid future poor health outcomes, elevate your laptop screen at eye level with a book, said Sosnoff.

“If you are a student who brings their laptop to class, move your laptop screen to make it ergonomically optimal so you are looking straight ahead,” he said. “Leaning in towards the computer forces you to hunch over, which can cause poor posture.”

Sosnoff said maintaining good posture stems from a biological and evolutionary standpoint.

“Our bodies are designed to be upright, not hunched over,” he said. “Poor posture can compress the spine and minimize the cardiovascular functioning of the body.”

Looking up can also add life to one’s personality, said Tamin Totzke, second year Master of Fine Arts dance student.

“As a dancer, I put a lot of focus on my posture with the audience when I’m performing,” Totzke said. “I lengthen my back and neck to engage with the audience so that the front of my body is open.”

When walking to class, Totzke suggests students walk with their heads in an upright position.

“Looking up and out, instead of down, tells people that you are approachable,” Totzke said. “Your body language can be read to the world in different ways. If you look down, it shows that you do not want to engage with others, which can hurt your social surroundings in addition to your physical health.”

*2. Stand up and take a break*

On top of staring at blank Word documents for what seems like hours, poor posture can develop from sitting for a long period of time.

“Get up from your studies and walk around a little bit,” Sosnoff said. “It’s important to walk around and make your body more alert.”

Students may be busy during this time of the semester, but taking a break can be beneficial.

“Our bodies are not designed to be able to sit for a long time, and sitting compresses the muscles in motion,” Sosnoff said. “Standing up can get your blood flowing and help you relax.”

Totzke said standing can also help the efficiency of skeletal movement.

“Your body movement flows with more ease and comfort than when you are in a stationary position,” she said.

*3. Fix your sitting position*

While sitting at a desk and studying, be sure to find the right position to keep your body alert.

“If you sit on the edge of your chair, you are more likely to be sitting in a forward-fold position,” said Rex Clark, physical therapist at McKinley Health Center. “Your back is rounded and your neck is looking down, both of which are indicators of poor posture.”

Instead, Clark suggests sitting at the back of your chair and using a small pillow to put on the curve of the lower back.

“Scoot back to the edge of your chair and keep your elbows close to your body,” Clark said.

“Keep your knees at a 90-degree angle, put your computer monitor at eye level, and place your feet firmly on the floor.”

The right chair can also make a difference.

“The chairs in the dorms and in the classroom are really bad for the back,” Clark said. “If you can, try and get a chair with an armrest and a cushion. It is worth the purchase and supports your arms, neck and lower back.”

For those who do not start practicing good posture, serious health effects can occur.

“If pain in your lower back gets worse, people can experience disc bulges in the spine and skeleton,” he said.

Totzke said now is the time for students to start improving their posture.

“Start practicing good posture now while you’re young,” she said. “Keep your back up and your shoulders high. You’ll keep your body awake and give it more life.”