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10 Ways Posture Affects Productivity (And How To Improve Both)

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This is a guest post by Kayla Matthews. She is a productivity blogger and efficiency enthusiast. You can find her on ProductivityTheory.com, on The Huffington Post, and on Google+ and Twitter.


If you’ve ever stumbled out of the office after a long day of sitting at your desk and felt so stiff you could hardly walk, you’ve experienced one of the side effects of having a sedentary job.

Staying in one place for such a large portion of the day is bad enough, but it becomes even worse if you don’t assume proper posture.

Later, we’ll take an in-depth look at why your work output goes down because of bad posture.

First, let’s examine why your desk job could be affecting your posture before you even realize what’s happening.

Office Workers Don’t Take Enough Breaks

Research shows unless people are in jobs overseen by labor unions or otherwise mandated to take breaks, they often force themselves to keep working without rest. This is especially common behavior from managers or other white-collar workers.

Even when individuals do take breaks, they frequently remain sitting at their desks, eating packed lunches while simultaneously checking emails or doing other work-related tasks. This phenomenon contributes to bad posture because it forces people to remain in the harmful positions they already assume for the majority of the workday.

Getting in the habit of taking an actual lunch break and using it to walk around is a good plan. Your actions may even inspire colleagues to do the same.

Working in the office

Desk Employees Are Often Not Aware of Bad Posture Habits

Many employees, such as those who regularly lift heavy things or stand on assembly lines, may receive training that teaches them to keep their bodies in proper alignment. However, desk workers are often overlooked for getting that kind of instruction.

That’s why some forward-thinking companies have gotten their workers set up with wearable posture trainers that alert users when they’re starting to slump. The results of one small study showed 85 percent of participants became more aware of their postural habits while using one of those gadgets.

Unfortunately, without such feedback, the first sign a person with a desk job might get that something is amiss about his or her posture could be pain. It’s probably not too late to make positive changes, but it would be arguably better if people knew they had bad posture before starting to hurt.

People Don’t Pay Enough Attention to Office Ergonomics

You may have put a lot of thought into how your desk is arranged, but when was the last time you tweaked your chair height? Another reason individuals with desk jobs often have poor posture is they don’t make the connection between how they’re sitting and possible painful side effects.

Without intervention, you may be craning your neck, crossing your legs and sitting with your shoulders curved forward, collectively making a desperate attempt to feel more comfortable while getting stuff done. Maybe you’ve already taken a step in the right direction and purchased an ergonomic chair. That’s a good move, but you need to set it up properly, too.

Begin by sitting down and pushing your hips back in the chair as much as possible. Adjust the seat height so your knees are at the same angle as your hips or slightly lower and your feet are flat on the floor.

The back of the chair should be at a 100-110 degree angle. Move the armrests, so they keep your arms in a natural position, or take them off if they make things worse.

There Are Misunderstandings About How to Strengthen Core Muscles

Although you might have learned it in PE class decades ago, it’s easy to forget that the muscles in our bodies take care of different tasks. Whereas some of them offer sudden bouts of power, the muscles responsible for helping us have good posture are built for endurance, and they’re sometimes referred to as slow-twitch varieties.

What that means, in short, is that you can develop a stronger core — and get better posture as a result — by doing exercises that have you hold poses for long periods of time. Going to the gym and forcing yourself to lift progressively heavier weights often leads to bulkier muscles, but it won’t necessarily give you a stronger core that aids your posture.

Consider meeting with a fitness trainer before starting a new gym regimen. Explain how you have an office job and want to develop your core muscles to reduce the possibility of having posture problems later. Besides getting suggestions of exercises to do at the gym, your exercise professional might give you some yoga poses to perform while in the office or even as you watch TV during time off.

Preventive Measures Are Not Taken Quickly Enough

Chiropractors report seeing a growing percentage of younger patients suffering from back pain and say the sedentary lifestyles many people lead does not help the matter. An aching back is often seen as a problem that affects elderly individuals. Based on that incomplete perception, people may not want to admit to themselves or others that they’re in pain. They also probably won’t realize that fixing the issue may be as easy as sitting up straighter.

A study of British individuals with back pain found that 41 percent of people polled did not proactively prevent back pain and 28 percent treated the problem with over-the-counter medication. However, physicians always prefer to stop issues from happening when possible, and many of them look at other treatment methods besides painkillers.

If desk workers are under the impression they are too young to be dealing with back issues and think their colleagues are doing fine, there’s a greater likelihood they’ll continue to try working in silence and handling the discomfort in ways that may only be masking the problem. It’s ideal if they instead realize that back problems can affect people of all ages, especially if those individuals perpetually have bad posture. Then, they can take preventive approaches.

People May Not Realize Their Posture Is the Problem

You’ve probably heard a lot about the hazards of sedentary work, but it’s important to understand physical activity can be harmful to your body, too. One of the problems associated with work-related pain is that people don’t automatically link their standing and sitting positions to the discomfort they feel. They may even believe they’ll just hurt at work no matter what because they’re aware sitting all the time is not ideal.

It’s true that being constantly seated isn’t the best way to spend your day, but don’t ignore the positive outcomes you could see by simply becoming more aware of your posture and doing what you can to fix your alignment. Our posture is something most of us don’t think about without coaching, so it’s not natural for people to think, “Maybe I have bad posture, and that’s why I’m hurting.” They might think stress or a lack of adequate rest is causing the pain instead.

We’ve just gone over some of the many reasons why having a desk job could lead to bad posture. Now, let’s look deeper at some of the things you could experience by not doing something to straighten up, how those things could make you less productive and how to prevent the problem.

1. Poor Posture Makes Depression Worse

If you struggle with chronic depression, the disorder almost certainly hurts your productivity. To clarify, sitting up straight is not a replacement for professional mental health treatment.

However, scientists from the University of Auckland conducted a study and found when individuals with mild to moderate depression sat up straighter, they felt mood boosts and their depressive symptoms were not as prominent. In contrast, slouching made them perform poorly while doing tasks and feel worse about themselves.

Study leaders told participants to straighten their backs, level their shoulders, look straight ahead and imagine they were being pulled upwards by a string hanging from the ceiling. You can follow those instructions as well and reap the benefits.

2. Bad Posture Could Trigger Heartburn

Like many people, you probably look forward to your lunch break — provided you actually take it — and view it as a welcome bit of relief from buckling down and completing your tasks. However, if you don’t sit up straight, the slumped position could interfere with digestion and give you heartburn. That resultant problem could cause so much distraction you have trouble getting things done.

Experts recommend challenging yourself to sit in a chair for a half hour without leaning against the back of it. Doing that forces you to have good posture, but if you can’t stay in that position for the full amount of time, you may have a postural problem that warrants seeing a spine specialist.

Freelancer working on laptop when having breakfast

3. Posture Affects Your Body’s Efficiency

Your body is built in a self-supporting way, so when it’s in proper alignment, tasks that could ordinarily become strenuous — such as standing — feel almost effortless. Professionals who specialize in helping people have better posture say that when they make postural improvements during static activities such as standing or walking, those enhancements transfer over to dynamic activities and make you more efficient and less fatigued.

To help restore your body to peak efficiency, become more aware of what it feels like when you’re in good versus bad alignment. Using a mirror and looking at examples of proper posture to tweak your position when needed should help.

4. Bad Posture Causes or Exacerbates Back Pain

It’s probably not surprising that bad posture makes your back hurt worse, but you may be shocked to learn that an aching back is one of the top reasons why people go to emergency rooms. Sometimes, individuals ignore their back pain due to fear and get scared about seeking treatment because they think something is seriously wrong.

In some cases, back pain does result because of urgent problems that signal deeper issues. However, something that’s very easy to fix, such as ill-fitting shoes, a purse that’s too heavy or an unsupportive mattress could also cause it.

As you probably expect, having bad posture triggers or exacerbates back pain. When the discomfort gets bad enough, it may become your sole focal point, so despite your best intentions, you’re not able to perform at your best.

Steer clear of severe back pain by seeking professional help as soon as you start to notice something doesn’t feel right. Then, it’ll be easier to tackle the problem and limit its effects, whether that means sitting in a better chair while working or even wearing more supportive undergarments.

5. Slumping Reduces Your Lung Capacity

You may not immediately think of posture as something that affects how you breathe, but slumping could cut down on the amount you can fill your lungs by up to 30 percent. As a result, your body does not receive as much oxygen-rich blood, and you may experience side effects like difficulty thinking and shortness of breath — both of which could compromise your ability to get work done with a clear mind while feeling your best.

In addition to paying attention to when you’re slumping and taking corrective measures when necessary, coach yourself to breathe deeply by using your diaphragm, so each breath you take is maximally effective.

6. Assertiveness Decreases With Bad Posture

Because so many people spend hours per day peering down at devices with small screens, some researchers are interested in determining if our fascination with gadgets has a negative impact on posture. As it turns out, a preliminary study has connected device size with assertiveness.

Scientists asked study participants to use various gadgets for five minutes. They then checked to see how long they’d wait to ask the supervisor for permission to leave after the session was obviously finished.

Those who used smaller devices — and presumably had to assume hunched posture while gazing down at the screens — were more timid about speaking up and asking if they could go out of the room. The research team concluded that the impact on assertiveness could make people less productive and not as likely to stand up for themselves.

Not being assertive enough at work could mean you take on more than you can handle simply because you’re not able to speak up and decline work. As a consequence, your quality level decreases.

Avoid hunching over your smartphone or tablet by holding it at eye level while using it. Also, massage the sides of your neck and the area between your shoulder blades. Doing that increases muscle elasticity and could reduce the adverse effects of a hunched stance.

Group of businesspeople working on laptop

7. Poor Posture Leads to Biased Memories

You may get caught in a vicious cycle of discouragement during perceived bouts of unproductiveness. Plus, the results of a German study indicate that assuming a poor postural position could make you more likely to recall bad things as opposed to good feedback.

Theoretically then, self-berating behavior might become more severe. That might mean you ultimately fixate on supposed shortcomings instead of tackling what’s within your control to improve.

In addition to being aware of how you sit and stand and correcting your posture when necessary, take stock of your thoughts and check whether you’re blowing things out of proportion. If your views seem one-sided, try and see the whole picture.

8. Poor Posture Worsens Visual Acuity When Using the Computer

People who spend a lot of time sitting at the computer or otherwise viewing content on screens often suffer from what’s called computer vision syndrome or digital eyestrain. Many factors contribute to it, and one is sitting with bad posture.

Some of the most common symptoms are eyestrain, dry eyes and blurred vision. Together, these issues could make it harder to read things on your computer, so you have to slow down and are not as productive.

People generally prefer to look at computers while gazing downward, so you may need to adjust your chair height slightly. By changing the viewing angle, you could promote better posture and reduce or eliminate the effects of computer vision syndrome.

9. Bad Body Alignment Might Make You Take More Sick Days

Productivity inevitably goes down when you’re not well enough to come to work, and you might feel too ill to make it to the office if you perpetually assume bad posture. Research shows that back pain is the most common cause of work-related disability and it’s to blame for many missed workdays. As you learned in earlier sections, having poor posture all the time increases the chances of suffering from bothersome back pain later.

Besides keeping your chair at the correct height and sitting in it with your shoulders back, try placing a rolled-up towel between the small of your back and the chair. That simple addition could provide more support to the lower back and reduce the strain that might lead to debilitating pain.

10. Improper Posture Could Result in Headaches

Health professionals have also pinpointed poor posture as a reason many people suffer from headaches in the afternoon. A position called forward head posture results when individuals sit with the neck more than an inch over the first vertebrae — also known as the atlas. For every inch of protrusion, the weight your neck bears increases by 10 pounds. The more tension you harbor in your neck, the more likely it is you’ll get a headache.

Solve this common problem by bringing your head to a neutral position while simultaneously pushing your chin forward in an exaggerated way. Straighten your spine while imagining someone is lifting you by the base of your skull, then pull your shoulder blades together and downward.

Because so many productivity experts often focus on the latest apps and hacks to help people get more done, they forget a very basic element: posture.

Keeping your body in an improper alignment could make you hurt so badly, it’s hard to concentrate.

If you don’t make efforts to improve, you might become so badly affected that maintaining a regular work schedule becomes impossible.


This is a guest post by Kayla Matthews. She is a productivity blogger and efficiency enthusiast. You can find her on ProductivityTheory.com, on The Huffington Post, and on Google+ and Twitter.

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1 Comment

Posted by LInda Maye Adams  | November 3, 2017 at 8:13AM | Reply

One of the challenges of exercise is that it’s marketed to people who want to lose weight fast, fast, fast, and fit into a bathing suit. If you have exercised in a while and start up, it is going to take a while to get better at it.

After I got out of the Army, I so loathed exercise that I didn’t do anything but walking for many, many years. I started up with Jack La Lanne videos, which, while old-fashioned, was the perfect started for me. Within a week of his exercises, I did see posture improvements. But it took almost eight months before I felt in shape enough to go to the gym to try weights. And another two years to get where I’m at (and that included being sidelined by a broken foot). I get up every hour at work at walk the building and do the gym three times a week. It’s very important to make sure it’s something fun to do, because it’s habit that takes a long time to develop.

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