Want to improve your posture? Experts share 5 tips that will help.

Experts share five tips for improving posture. (Getty Images)
Experts share five tips for improving posture. (Getty Images) (Westend61 via Getty Images)

Your parents may have told you to sit up straight, but that’s not the only reason why it’s important to maintain good posture. A lifetime of slouching can cause physical discomfort as we age — and even wreak havoc on our health. Poor posture can make certain muscles and joints work overtime, causing them to become fatigued. In some cases, it can even exacerbate conditions like arthritis, lead to poor circulation or trigger jaw pain, headaches and more. Bad posture can also restrict the expansion of the lungs and diaphragm, making it more difficult to take a nice, deep breath.

The musculoskeletal system, which includes our spine and muscles, undergoes changes over time, but it’s not just normal aging that contributes to how well we hold ourselves. Factors such as prolonged sitting, sedentary lifestyles and muscle imbalances can all contribute to issues with our posture.

Fortunately, there are some simple exercises you can do to improve your posture. Here’s what experts want you to know.

Remember to connect your feet to the ground

When you think of good posture, you probably think about your shoulders or back. Dr. Michael Fredericson, a sports medicine physician at Stanford Health Care, says it's best to consider your foot placement first. “I go from the feet up,” he tells Yahoo Life. “For good posture, when you’re standing, you need good foot support. You want to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and you want to feel your feet connected to the ground. Even when you’re in a chair, you want to connect your feet with the ground, and that will help your posture.”

According to Fredericson, it's best to stand with your knees over the toes, so that your knees aren’t knocking in or out. You also want to make sure you are not locking your knees, and but instead let them have a “little bend."

Don’t stiffen up

If you hear “straighten up” and immediately stiffen, that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do, Fredericson says. Instead of going into a stiff, military-like position, "what you really want to do is relax your shoulders," he advises.

“Think of expanding your back, and relaxing your chest in front,” he adds. “Instead of sticking your chest out like a military posture, relax your chest and think of broadening your shoulders. Remember to be in a neutral spine: Think of your tailbone pointing down.”

In general, Fredericson says that people "hold too much tension in their bodies," making them very "stiff" when they move. "If you can breathe from your lower abdomen and not breathe from your chest, and have your pelvis aligned so your tailbone is pointing down, that will really help," he adds.

If you want a workout that'll help you perfect your posture, Fredericson recommends practicing martial arts. Tai chi, which can also help improve balance, is also known to aid with alignment.

Try this easy stretching exercise

The best way to incorporate posture exercises into your daily life is to find ones you can do anywhere. Dr. Peter Whang, Yale Medicine orthopedic spine surgeon, says he often suggests this exercise for patients who need to improve their posture.

  • Stand up and intertwine your fingers behind your back (they should be close to the level of your buttocks).

  • Take a deep breath, and while exhaling shrug your shoulders and retract your shoulder blades backward and toward each other to open your chest.

  • Hold this position for 15 seconds before relaxing, and repeat three to four times.

“I have found that this exercise is good for loosening up the shoulders and muscles of the upper back, restoring the physiologic curves of the spine and maintaining the trunk in good position,” Whang tells Yahoo Life.

Set yourself up for success at work

“If you spend a lot of time at a desk, it's crucial to ensure your workspace supports good posture,” celebrity personal trainer Kollins Ezekh tells Yahoo Life. This means positioning your computer monitor at eye level to avoid tilting your head up or down, which strains your neck. Just as Fredericson recommends keeping the feet connected to the floor, Ezekh says it’s important to keep your feet flat or on a footrest, with your knees at hip level.

“Choose a chair that supports the natural curve of your spine, and use a cushion or a rolled-up towel for additional lower back support if needed,” he adds. “And remember to take regular breaks to stretch and walk around.”

Be a cat ... and a cow

If you’re a regular in yoga, you may recognize the cat-cow pose as one of the warm-up moves in class. "Incorporating this pose into your yoga practice regularly can help strengthen the muscles that support good posture and increase awareness of alignment in your daily activities," yoga educator Louise Bartlett tells Yahoo Life.

Bartlett adds that it's important to "remember to breathe deeply and listen to your body as you practice." Here's how you do the yoga pose:

  • Begin on your hands and knees, with wrists under shoulders and knees under the hips. Spread the fingers wide and press down into the hands.

  • Inhale, arching your back and lifting your head and tailbone for cow pose.

  • Exhale, rounding your spine and tucking your chin for cat pose

  • Move between these two poses, syncing your breath with movement to increase spine flexibility and awareness.

  • Repeat for five to 10 cycles, focusing on making your breath slow, steady and smooth.