Women with books on their heads

I’ll be the first to admit I’m obsessed with bad posture. I’m constantly looking up exercises to improve my terribly slouchy habits, and reminding myself that sitting in strange positions is bad for business. Because of how ingrained these habits are in my everyday life, it’s going to be a while before standing and sitting properly are second nature for me.

The same might be true for you: You’re active, you’re healthy, but good posture doesn’t feel as natural as you’d like it to. Nixing bad posture from your repertoire means 24/7 mindfulness about how you hold your body. At first it will feel strange, but it’s better than the alternative: Over time, bad posture takes a serious toll on your spine, shoulders, hips and knees, not to mention it opens the gate to oodles of health issues.

Here are 5 things you can do to avoid bad posture:

1. Consistently gauge your posture

Wearing clothes that hug your figure, take two full-body photos: One from the side, and one from the front. Stand how you normally do, bad posture and all.

  • If your ear is in front of the mid-point of your shoulder, you’re leaning your head too far forward.
  • Check your shoulders to make sure one isn’t higher than the other.
  • If you can see your shoulder blade, your back is too rounded.
  • If your hips tilt forward and the bottom of your spine has a mad arch to it, this is called an anterior pelvic tilt. To correct this, you’ll need to strengthen your core.
  • Check your feet: If your toes point outward more than 10 degrees, you’re duck-footed; inward, you’re pigeon-toed.

This assessment will help you pinpoint the areas of your posture you need to work on most. As you put the tips below into practice, take updated snapshots and see how you’re doing.

2. Build posture-friendly habits

The little things add up: Stretching first thing in the morning, getting up hourly to stretch, walk or stand, and setting up your work area to promote proper posture will collectively make a big difference.

3. Strengthen your muscles

Focus on core-strengthening exercises – like yoga or Pilates – that will build strength in your abs and pelvic area, which are the primary muscles that encourage good posture. Or, take these moves for a spin:

Shoulder Blade Pinch

This will help your shoulders fall where they should naturally. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, hold for 10 seconds, and repeat anytime you remember to do so (for example, every time you sit down).

Leg Lift

Lie on your side with your legs and arms outstretched. Lift your feet so only your hips and shoulders are touching the floor. Lift your top leg 10 to 15 times on each side.

Boat Pose

This yoga pose has helped improve my posture considerably. Full boat is a fantastic way to amp up your abs (if you’re a beginner like me, try half boat, where your knees are bent and calves parallel to the floor).

Arm Slides

Lie on your stomach and bring your arms up off the floor so they’re at a 90-degree angle (elbows parallel with your shoulders). Stretch your arms above your head and make your hands touch so that you’re creating a diamond shape. Go back and forth from these two positions, holding both for two seconds at a time. Do 10 to 15 reps.

4. Memorize the proper way to stand and sit

I’ve become so used to not concentrating on my posture that I actually forgot how to stand and sit properly (I wish I was joking).

When standing…

  • Pretend your neck is being pulled toward the ceiling by a string
  • Keep your shoulders back and relax them
  • Pull in your abs
  • Make sure your feet are hip-width apart
  • Balance your weight evenly on both feet
  • Hang your hands naturally at your sides

When sitting…

  • Make sure your chair lets you put both feet flat on the floor, your knees level with your hips.
  • Plant your rear at the back of the chair to better avoid slouching.
  • Place a rolled towel or small pillow behind your lower back if your chair doesn’t support it.
  • Keep your upper back and neck straight (without force)
  • Relax your shoulders

You know, no pressure.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

It can take anywhere from 21 to 66 days to create a new habit and have it feel completely natural. Soon, your mindfulness about your bad posture will pay off – you’ll become a whole new you!

How do you steer clear of bad posture?

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Image: Beth Scupham