Sitting with a straight back and shoulders will not only improve a person's physical health but can make them feel more confident.
Many people spend the majority of their day sitting down as they tend to sit when commuting, working in an office or studying, and relaxing at home. Prolonged sitting can cause a range of adverse health effects, including bad posture and back health.
In this article, we look at what good posture means and explain the correct sitting position to achieve it, particularly when sitting at a computer.
What is good posture?
Good posture is important whether sitting or standing.
Good posture means that the key parts of a person's body are correctly aligned and supported by the right amount of muscle tension.
Correct posture can help by:
- reducing strain on the body during movement and exercise
- reducing wear and tear on the joints, muscles, and ligaments
- maintaining balance while moving and exercising
- reducing the risk of muscle strain and overuse conditions
- improving spine health
Best sitting position
The best sitting position depends on a person's height, the chair they are using, and the activity they are doing while sitting.
A person can improve posture and achieve a proper sitting position by:
- keeping feet flat or rest them on either the floor or a footrest
- avoiding crossing knees or ankles
- maintaining a small gap between the back of the knees and the chair
- positioning knees at the same height or slightly lower than the hips
- placing ankles in front of the knees
- relaxing the shoulders
- keeping the forearms and knees parallel to the floor where possible
- holding elbows at the sides creating an L-shape in the arms
- sitting up straight and looking forward without straining the neck
- keeping the back against the chair, or using a backrest or cushion if there are places where the back does not comfortably meet the chair, especially in the lower back region
- avoiding sitting for long periods at a time, ideally taking at least a 10-minute break for every hour of sitting
Tips for sitting posture at a computer
This diagram demonstrates how to achieve good posture when sitting at a desk.
People who have to sit for extended periods at a desk because of their work or schooling need to take extra precautions to make sure they maintain a healthy posture and back.
When working at a computer for long periods, a person can help improve their sitting posture by:
- keeping the monitor at arm's length and no more than 2 inches above the natural line of sight
- customizing workspaces, for example adding footrests, wrist pads, or backrests
- using a standing desk to alternate between sitting and standing
- using an ergonomic chair, a yoga ball, or a knee chair
- trying out different keyboard and mouse types
- using a headset for long calls or dictating to reduce neck strain
- positioning the keyboard and mouse close together to avoid reaching
- getting up and moving around occasionally, especially when experiencing any muscle or joint pain
Once in the correct position, try doing a mental check every 10 to 15 minutes to see if the posture has altered and then correct any changes.
A person with poor posture can correct it with time, awareness, and commitment. It can take weeks to months for some people to see significant benefits from working on their posture. Once a person has improved their posture they will need to work at maintaining it, so they may often have to remind themselves to recognize unhealthy positions and correct them.
Sitting positions to avoid
Anything that causes a misuse or overuse of specific muscles, ligaments, or tendons can adversely impact a person's posture and back health. Certain positions are worse than others for overworking or misusing postural tissues, especially some sitting positions.
To prevent bad posture and back health avoid:
- sitting slumped to one side with the spine bent
- keeping the knees, ankles, or arms crossed
- dangling or not properly supporting the feet
- sitting for a long time in one position
- straining the neck for long periods while looking at a monitor, telephone screen, or document
- sitting in a position that does not fully support the back, especially the lower back
- sitting for an extended period without taking a break
Other ways to improve posture
Standing up and stretching regularly may help to prevent back pain.
Practicing good sitting habits is only one way to help improve posture and back health.
Every type of postural position and movement that the body makes involves or impacts the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that help support posture. Some lifestyle factors that may not seem directly related to posture are in fact crucial to overall postural health.
Everyday tips for a healthy posture and back include:
- exercising for at least 30 minutes three times a week, focusing on a mix of stretching, strengthening, and aerobic activities
- trying not to stay in any one position for too long, changing position or activity every hour
- using a hands-free device for long calls
- keeping any screens at eye or chest level when reading to reduce neck and upper back strain
- sitting up straight and looking directly forward when reading mobile screens or monitors
- lifting heavy objects by bending the legs rather than using the back
- keeping heavy loads close to the body when lifting or carrying them
- adjusting the seat when driving to support the back without straining and to allow the knees to bend
- placing lumbar support cushions on seats, including car seats, thus reducing lower back strain
- wearing comfortable, supportive, or orthopedic shoes when standing for long periods of time
- walking with a straight spine and trying to avoid slumping or leaning
- swinging the arms briskly and evenly when walking, jogging, or running
- keeping baby carriers at a level higher than the hips with stroller handles at belly button level
- alternating sides when carrying a baby for a prolonged period
- building up key muscle groups when away from the computer by doing squats, lunges, jumping jacks, shoulder shrugs, and pushups
Many people spend long periods of time sitting down. Sitting incorrectly, especially at a desk, can be bad for back health and posture.
However, by knowing what a good sitting posture looks like and following a few simple rules, most people can learn how to self-correct and thus achieve good posture.
Making additional lifestyle changes, such as doing a good amount of various exercises and taking movement breaks throughout the day, can also help.