Don’t copy those slouching celebs. Bad posture won’t just cause a bad back, but depression too!
At first glance, it was hard to put a finger on it. As the succession of celebrities stepped on to the red carpet at the Golden Globes, there was no denying that most of the outfits were exquisite.
The jewels and accessories were dazzling, while the hair and make-up was perfect. Yet many of the female actresses and singers looked distinctly uncomfortable in front of the world’s cameras. The reason? Their posture was appalling.
Actress Michelle Williams looked round-shouldered in her putty-coloured number by Valentino, while country music star Carrie Underwood’s sunken chest did nothing for her strapless sequin dress. Even the statuesque Tilda Swinton appeared to stoop.
Slouching: Emma Watson, left, and Anne Hathaway strike ungainly poses on the red carpet
And it’s not only celebrities whose posture is shocking. One in five people in Britain visits their GP complaining of back pain each year — yet many of them could be cured by learning to stand and sit properly.
It’s not only spinal problems either. Researchers at North State Dakota University have found a link between poor posture and depression, and many experts believe stooping and slouching could be associated with weight gain, heartburn, migraines, anxiety and respiratory conditions.
So, what is good posture and how can we achieve it?
‘By drawing back the shoulders we create enough space within the body for the connective tissues inside to align themselves correctly,’ says body alignment expert Chris James.
‘Imagine hanging a piece of string above you when you’re in a seated position — it should pass directly through the head, midway between the shoulder blades and through the centre of the pelvis to the floor.
‘Good posture allows for the free flow of blood and oxygen around the body, which forms the foundation of good health. Without proper alignment, the body can attract disease.’
The good news is that it’s relatively simple to correct poor posture — whatever your age.
Physiotherapist Cheyne Voss says the process of diagnosing and tackling poor posture begins at a muscular level. ‘People who slouch often lack sufficient support in the natural curve of their lumbar [lower] spine,’ he says.
‘As a result, the pectoral muscles of the chest are shortened while the trapezius muscle in the back becomes elongated. This puts pressure on to discs and nerves in the spine — causing pain.’
Poor posture: From left, Sandra Bullock, Gwyneth Paltrow and Keira Knightley
A McKenzie lumbar roll (£9.50; amazon.co.uk), which clips on to your chair and supports the lower back in the curve of the lower spine, can help this, maintaining a correct spinal alignment while sitting and encouraging a more upright position.
Voss advises squeezing your arms against the sides of your body to lower the shoulders, then contracting the core muscles of the stomach to add support to the lumbar spine.
It’s not only standing or sitting still that causes a problem. Our ‘dynamic posture’ — which occurs while we’re moving — also causes as many problems as our static posture.
Women who wear heels have a tendency to tilt their pelvis backwards, over-extending the arch at the base of the spine. Also, the so-called ‘photo pose’ that most actresses adopt (one leg in front of the other with one hand on a tilted hip and shoulders at an angle) might look good in pictures, but in reality it is forcing the body into a position that’s far from well balanced.
Yet while changing our physical position is crucial to halting the negative impacts of posture, experts believe it’s only one part of the battle.
Gerardo Reis, senior naturopath at London’s Alchemy Centre, believes poor posture has a closer link to our diet and weight than we realise. ‘Having poor posture can adversely affect many different systems in the body, including the nerves leading to the digestive organs,’ he says. ‘If the body’s ability to break down food is impaired, it can lead to an accumulation of toxins.
‘This may affect the thyroid, causing weight gain, bloating, hormonal imbalance and even the health of our skin and hair.
‘Stress causes people to hunch their shoulders. It’s a subconscious reaction to the pressure. Herbal teas including skullcap, withania and passion flower can help loosen postural tension.’
Podiatrist Margaret Dabbs believes that improving our ‘dynamic posture’ begins with our feet. ‘When walking, our weight rolls from the heel to the toe,’ she says.
‘The foot should be supported throughout this movement. Without this, our weight distribution can stray, forcing our upper body to lean backwards or forwards.’
Specialist shoes such as FitFlops can help. They encourage the correct alignment of the knees and pelvis and fix the natural curve of the spine into a good posture.
Frequent use of a rowing machine or repetitive exercises such as press-ups — which encourage the back to round — can worsen poor posture.
Consultant psychologist Ingrid Collins believes there’s an intrinsic link between the body’s position and our ‘psychological posture’.
‘At a cellular level, when happiness molecules — or endorphins — produced within the brain circulate in the blood, they send a signal to every cell that we’re happy and healthy,’ she says.
‘If we arrange ourselves physically in a positive manner with the shoulders back, the spine straight and the chest open, it informs the brain to send out more endorphins, triggering a feeling we experience as happiness.’
To tackle physical and psychological posture simultaneously, Chris James integrates yoga with Feldenkrais — a method of exercise developed by an Israeli physicist and martial arts expert during the mid-20th century.
Unlike traditional yoga or Pilates, Feldenkrais practitioners guide you through a series of subtle movements.
If all else fails, try Watsu, a water-based therapy similar to Shiatsu massage, which involves being gently swayed around a private pool.