Posture affects your health, image and even your sense of power.
Think of your head as a ten-pound bowling ball. Now imagine bending over your cell phone for two to four hours a day. That’s what most of us are doing and its wreaking havoc with our posture, according to a new study by Kenneth Hansraj, MD, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine.
The more you tilt the head forward, the more stress you put on the neck: ten pounds for every inch, says Hansraj. Bend your head at a thirty degree angle to peer at a selfie and you add thirty pounds of load; bend over sixty degrees to read a small-type text message and you add sixty. These stresses, the study says, can lead to early wear, tear, and degeneration of the cervical spine.
It’s not just forward-necks but forward-shoulders that are dragging us down. Prolonged periods of hunching over at a computer or desk forces chest muscles to tighten, pulling shoulders forward. New York City trainer Marc Perry, founder of the BuiltLean training program, suggests you do the simple “pencil test” to evaluate how round-shouldered you are: Hold a pencil in a loose fist in each hand, arms relaxed by your sides. If the pencils point straight forward, you’re in good shape. If the pencils are facing each other, or are turning in at an angle, your shoulders are internally rotated. To prevent shoulders from becoming habitually rounded, stand up every once in a while and do some chest-opening stretches—clasp your arms behind your back, flap or windmill your arms.
As for reversing text-neck, we need to change how we use cellphones when reading or writing messages and looking at photos. Awkward though it feels, says Hansraj, bring the phone up to eye level as much as possible. Ideally, the jawline should be level with the ground, ears aligned with the shoulders.
For those who need a reminder to self-correct posture, there’s a new high tech gizmo called the Lumo Lift, a chiclet-sized device you wear behind a collar or on a bra strap. When it detects slouching it gently vibrates until you reposition your head and shoulders. To keep track of your progress throughout the day, you can pair it to an app on—get ready for this—your cell phone.
Once you get aligned, tune into the power of good posture. Ann Cuddy, a social psychologist and associate professor at Harvard Business School, says our nonverbal body language is key to feeling and being on top of your game. She refers to certain postures as power poses. Strength is communicated by open, expansive postures—people in power stand tall, legs apart, hands on hips, while those who feel weak tend to cave their bodies inward, cross their legs, make themselves small.
And good form leads to good feelings. Cuddy claims there are physiological changes that happen in powerful poses, including an increase in serotonin, the happiness hormone. There’s also a behavioral bonus: people who practice power poses tend to feel more powerful. So if you even if you fall into a slump now and then, at least straighten up when it counts.