My chiropractor, Dr. Denise Vuich, explains the ABC's—alignment, balance, and core strength—of proper posture.
For my job, I actually don't do a ton of sitting—shooting a television show involves more standing than sitting—but most people are at their desks all day, five days a week, sometimes more. All that prolonged sitting adds up—and now that summer is nearly over, chances are that most of us are all about to be sitting a lot more.
We're all familiar with the achy neck, shoulders, and back that we get from sitting for extended periods of time, but it's not just these muscles that suffer. Studies show that sitting increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, heart attack, and stroke (and, by sittin' pretty the way, people who sit a lot also tend to have large rear ends!). I checked in with Dr. Denise Vuich, my chiropractor, to find out more about why it's so important to sit up straight and how to combat the effects of too much sitting.
Giada: What is the right way to sit at your desk?
Denise Vuich: Your rear end should be all the way to the back of the seat with your back resting against the chairback. Your feet should be flat on the floor and, as much as possible, your posture should be straight, as if a helium balloon were attached to the top of your head and elevating you slightly. Think of lining up the ears with the shoulders, the shoulders with the hips, and the hips with the knees and ankles.
G: What are some common sitting "mistakes"?
DV: It's very common for almost anyone who sits at a desk for long periods of time to slump forward with rounded shoulders and head bent forward.
G: Why is that position bad?
DV: Most commonly, people experience neck, shoulder, and lower back pain due to constant reaching toward the desk or computer keyboard. It can also be detrimental to overall spinal health; over time, improper posture and alignment can create changes in the normal spinal curves in the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spinal regions. It can also cause headaches and fatigue, change the way we digest foods, and affect our ability to breathe deeply and oxygenate our bodies!
G: Are there any other postural pitfalls?
DV: Handbags and briefcases filled to the brim and slung over one shoulder or even carried on one side can create an imbalance on one side of the body. For kids, backpacks and book bags present a true problem, as most students carry too much weight on a daily basis and this greatly affects their spinal health.
G: What are your thoughts on standing desks?
DV: Most injuries related to poor posture are related to a seated posture while looking forward at a computer screen. Standing desks save the neck and back from overuse injuries. Though I should add that standing all day isn't the solution either! Standing for prolonged periods of time can also bring about problems, especially if not standing in supportive, cushioned shoes. The most common "overuse injury" with standing occurs due to faulty posture as well: head forward, shoulders rounded and lower back unsupported from allowing abdominals to relax.
G: What should we do to combat the slump?
DV: Movement should be a priority for anyone who sits at work. For every hour of sitting, you should walk or stand for 5 to 10 minutes. This not only assists in proper posture but also helps with blood flow and decreases fatigue. (By the way, there's a nifty app to remind you to get your butt out of your seat. It's called Stand and it pings you every hour!) One other trick to use when seated is to use your hands to push up from the seat, stretching the spine upward.
G: Are there any exercises you can do?
DV: Yes! The most important tip for maintaining proper posture is to strengthen all the muscles associated with the spine and extremities. Modified plank (resting on your forearms rather than your hands) is the single-best thing for strengthening arms, back, core, and legs. Another posture is downward facing dog; it lengthens the legs and spine and assists in strengthening the upper body as well as the back and core. The third posture I recommend is modified upward facing dog. Instead of raising and arching your back from your hands on the floor, use your forearms to reduce any chance of overstretching or injury to the lower back.
Dr. Denise Vuich, a private-practice chiropractor in the Los Angeles area, earned her BA from Penn State University and her doctorate from New York Chiropractic. She is also president and executive director of Vuich Vendor Services.