THRIVE | Is sitting the new smoking?

As you read this, either online or in a newspaper, how is your posture? Good? Bad? Indifferent? And why exactly should it matter whether you are hunched over a computer or newspaper right now?

The value of developing and maintaining good posture throughout our lives is becoming more evident as our usage of Smartphones, tablets and computers increases every year and children are being introduced to these devices at younger and younger ages.

Good posture is one of the main ingredients to healthy growth and development for our children. However, one recent study performed on teenagers found that 56 percent of teenager’s spines were deformed. The culprit? Too much extended sitting during growth spurts.

A great article came out in the November 2014 Washington Post titled, “Text neck is becoming an epidemic and could wreck your spine.” I saw this article everywhere; it brought great attention to a growing problem. This article highlighted the mechanics of how much pressure and compression looking down at your phone or tablet places on our spines, specifically our neck.

The average human head weighs 12 pounds. When flexed forward and down, the weight of the head on the neck begins to increase. At a 15-degree angle, this weight is about 27 pounds; at 30 degrees, it’s 40 pounds; at 45 degrees, it’s 49 pounds; and at 60 degrees, it’s 60 pounds. How much is 60 pounds of pressure on your neck? It is equivalent to hanging an 8-year-old child around your neck for several hours.

Smartphone users spend an average of two to four hours per day hunched over, reading emails, sending texts or checking social media sites. That’s 700 to 1,400 hours per year people are putting stress on their spines, according to the research! And high-school aged kids might be the worst: They could conceivably spend an additional 5,000 hours in this position.

And that’s just the mechanics of the issue. The neck is a virtual warehouse of nerve endings that receive and send signals from our eyes and balance reflex systems to higher parts of our brain. This constant flow of information from our body to our brain and back again literally charges our brains batteries.

 The amount of compression being placed on our necks from simply looking down for hours a day to check our phones and tablets actually depresses our nerve endings from firing. So in a way, our brains do not receive the proper amount of “neurologic nutrition” that is required.

In fact, Noble Prize-winning researcher Robert Sperry found that 90 percent of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine. Is it any wonder why forward head posture has been linked to depression, neurological conditions, headaches, fatigue and heart conditions?

What about kids who can’t sit still in a classroom all day? Their brains are literally starving for stimulation and nutrition that is provided by proper posture and movement. Let’s get those kids outside!


Benefits of good posture

•Facilitates breathing — A good posture naturally enables you to breathe properly. This is why yoga, Pilates and meditation exercises pay so much attention on getting your posture and sitting positions right.

•Increases concentration and thinking ability — When you are breathing properly, you increase your thinking ability, too. Our brain requires 20 percent of oxygen to do its job properly. More air, more oxygen. More oxygen, more brain food. More brain food leads to more thoughts and ideas.

•Good digestion — This is the first thing that can go haywire when health deteriorates. Keeping your rib cage in a good position, free and open means your digestion can work a bit easier.

•Avoid health complications — A bad posture results in several complications over time, such as increased risks of slipped disc, backaches, back pain, pressure inside your chest and poor blood circulation.


Ideas to help improve posture

Pretend your body is held by a string. Pretend that your spine and head is held up by a string from the ceiling all the time. Focus on keeping your spine and head aligned with the string while relaxing other parts of your body.

Usually, people end up tensing all other parts of their body when trying to keep a right posture. What this does is it keeps you focused on keeping your back straight and loosening your other muscles.

•Eliminate bad habits that cultivate bad postures — This includes watching TV/reading while lying down, working under dim light (which results in slouching), sleeping on your stomach (apparently, 7 percent of people do that).

•Get a good quality chair, and place your butt at the innermost edge. A good chair will be one that has a sufficiently firm and dense cushion, with back support.

I prefer the back of the chair to run up to at least my shoulders so I can place them against it.

•Ground both your feet when standing or sitting. This means having both feet planted flat on the floor and not resting your weight on a particular foot, which is a very common habit.

While sitting, try not to cross your legs. This helps to keep the upper part of our body straight.

•Invest in a good bed and pillow — Get a mattress that is firm and not too soft. The soft mattresses where you sink into may feel nice and comfy initially, but they are not good for your back/posture.

For your pillow, consider investing in a contour pillow: They arch and support your head.

•Engage in exercises that strengthen your back — These include pilates, yoga, exercise balls and simple stretching.

•Get a professional assessment.

DR. NATE CLEM is a chiropractor specializing in pediatrics and family wellness at Discovery Wellness Center ( To comment on this column, write to