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Most of us are guilty of slouching. Lately you might be doing it more often and wonder how to improve your posture. Now that many of us are spending more time at home, good posture is particularly important. You’re probably not thinking about whether you are sitting upright every second of the day. And it’s just so easy to slump over your computer while working or watching videos. 

While posture definitely includes how you sit and stand, it also involves the way you move and hold your body during every single activity—including sleep, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In the long run, we can reduce our risk of developing various aches and pains, balance issues, and even breathing problems by paying more attention to our posture, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

But hearing that you should improve your posture and knowing how to do it are two completely different things. So we talked to experts about how to improve your posture.

What is posture, anyway?

As we previously mentioned, it’s simply your body’s alignment at any given moment. There are actually two types of posture, according to the NIH. Static posture (the one you generally might think of) refers to how your body is positioned while sitting, standing, or sleeping. On the flip side, dynamic posture describes your body’s position in motion, for example, during a jog.

Good posture supports your joints, muscles, spine, tendons, and ligaments, Tyler R. Koski, M.D., codirector of the Northwestern Medicine Spine Center, tells SELF. So when you regularly slump over your computer—or engage in other forms of bad posture that we’ll discuss—you’re putting extra stress on some pretty important body parts. Over time this can lead to widespread body pain, particularly in your neck, shoulders, back, knees, and hips. Bad posture also can throw off your balance, so you may eventually fall or stumble more often. In some cases poor body alignment can even compress your diaphragm and cause breathing problems, according to the NIH.

What causes bad posture?

A lot of people just started slouching ages ago and never corrected it. “Poor posture is often a bad habit that someone gets into,” Mike Murray, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon in Pennsylvania, tells SELF.

Then we continue to carry out these habits in many of our daily activities, Dr. Murray says. Texting while sitting hunched over your phone is one common issue, he explains. Working at a desk that isn’t set up to support good posture is another big one. (Don’t worry, we’ll go over some basic ergonomics tips in a bit.)

In certain cases, people have health conditions that contribute to bad posture. For example, people with scoliosis have curved spines that can make their shoulders, waist, and hips uneven, which makes it harder to maintain proper posture, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that can prompt some of the interlocking bones in the spine to fuse, can make people hunch over, the Mayo Clinic says.

How can you maintain good standing posture?

In general, you want to stand in a way that supports the curves of your spine. It may be helpful to understand that your spine has three natural curves: one at your neck, another in your mid back, and another in your lower back, according to the NIH. Good posture maintains each of these curves. When you’re standing, your head should be positioned above your shoulders, and the top of your shoulders should be above your hips, the NIH recommends. “In general, if your head is up, your shoulders are going to go back, and you’re going to maintain the most normal neck and [back] alignment for you,” Christopher Wolf, M.D., orthopedic spine surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, tells SELF. Remembering to keep your earlobes in line with your shoulders may help with this.

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