You’ve probably heard that sitting is the new smoking. And American workers spend a lot of time sitting. But in addition to the health issues associated with a sedentary lifestyle, our bad posture can affect our health, mood, productivity, and even success.
According to data collected by Lumo Bodytech, maker of the Lumo Lift Posture Coach (a device that attaches to your shirt or bra strap about 1 inch from your collarbone and alerts you when you’re slouching, prompting you to correct your posture), the majority of American workers spend an average of only 36% of their workday in good posture. “Workers are spending as much as 38 minutes per hour slouching,” says Monisha Perkash, CEO of Lumo Bodytech. Women’s postures are 20% worse than men.
Sitting or standing with your head up and shoulders back, in what is often called a “powerful pose,” can help prevent back pain and improve your physical well-being, but also make you better at your job.
Poor posture is associated with back pain, which is the second leading reason for visits to the doctor, outnumbered only by the common cold, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Poor posture-related back pain costs American employers over $7 billion a year and is the leading cause of disability for employees under the age of 45.
Proper posture contributes to productivity by keeping workers at the office and away from filing disability claims, but is also associated with other health benefits, including higher levels of energy, reduced incidences of migraine headaches, lower stress, and higher concentration. Since our most vital organs are located in our core, everything from circulation to breathing and digestion can be affected by posture, says Perkash. By sitting in a position in which these vital organs are compressed, we aren’t allowing our organs to function at their absolute capacity. But by opening up our chest and core by maintaining proper posture, organs are allowed to expand and operate normally, improving our overall health.
The “powerful pose” releases chemicals in the body that can make you more confident. When we open our chest by pushing our shoulders back and lifting our head, testosterone, a hormone associated with greater confidence and power, is released, and cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, is lowered.
One Ohio State University study showed maintaining poor posture for 30 minutes significantly increases stress levels, depression, and fear, while holding yourself in an upright posture results in greater confidence and lower stress levels.
“Having poor posture detracts from your leadership,” says Perkash. In a 2012 TED Talk on posture, social psychologist Amy Cuddy showed how power posing can make you feel more confident. “In the animal kingdom, power and dominance is about expanding; making yourself look bigger,” she says. When animals feel powerless, they crunch up, making themselves appear small.
Cuddy says we mimic this behavior, standing tall with our hands on our hips when we’re feeling in control and when we want to exude dominance over someone else; and we slouch, sometimes even wrapping our arms around our bodies, when we feel self-doubt. Simply by changing our body language and engaging in this powerful pose, Cuddy says we can make ourselves feel more powerful and exude greater confidence to those around us, allowing us to be better leaders.