Look Thinner Instantly (cont.)

"Over the last two decades we've become a nation of professional sitters, and what' I've experienced dealing with posture over the last 20 years is that most of the problems people experience are actually linked to the positions they assume while working on computers," Novak says.

Hunching over your keyboard, she says, causes muscles in the upper back to stretch and the corresponding muscles in the chest to tighten. This, in turn, pushes the head forward and the ribcage down.

Assuming that posture day in and day out can cause you to not only slump every time you're at your desk, but eventually, even when you're standing, Fleming says.

"Actual structural changes can begin to take place so that ultimately you're slumped over all the time and standing up straight can actually become painful and difficult," Fleming says.

Exercises to Improve Posture: The 1-Minute Solution

Although changing your posture may seem like a daunting task, experts say real change can come about fairly quickly. Novak says you can begin the process in less than a minute, with an "instant" realignment technique for joints and bones.

How's it done? "From either a standing or sitting position, simply lift your sternum, (the breast bone in the center of your chest) up just an inch or two. It will dramatically change what is going in with your posture instantly," says Novak, who details several other similar techniques in her new DVD.

What's going on, she says, is that you're lifting your rib cage up off of your midsection and stopping the curve in the back that takes place when you slump forward. More important, she says "it helps you get your head back over your shoulders where it belongs, plus it takes the stress off of the back and neck muscles."

Novak says doing that one other move each time you find yourself slumping forward will net you some real change in your day-to-day posture in as little as 3 weeks' time.

"If you also add in a motion where you squeeze your shoulder blades together towards your spine, and tuck them down as if you were trying to put them in your back pocket, you'll begin to strengthen the back muscles that will give additional support to your posture, so you may even see results sooner," says Novak.

If you want to boost your posture even more, Bottsech says, try exercises that build core and upper back strength, so your midsection can be well supported.

"When your core and your upper back are strong, it not only makes it easier to stand up tall and straight, but it also helps overcome some of the health-related problems created by the muscle imbalances of poor posture, including lower back pain and neck pain," says Bottsech.

To help get you started, Bottsech offers these three simple core strength and posture exercises. Be sure to check with your doctor first if you have any back, neck, or spine issues. And if any exercise causes pain or is extremely difficult, stop and consult a physician or a personal trainer before continuing.

Pelvic Tilt: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Place a folded towel under your lower back. Engage your abdominals by drawing your navel toward your spine as you press your lower back into the towel. Hold 5 seconds. Repeat 10-15 times.

Arm Sweeps: Sit on the floor with knees bent, heels touching the floor and toes lifted. Extend arms to each side and rotate your body, lifting the right arm toward the ceiling as the left arm touches the floor behind you. Reverse and lift left arm toward the ceiling while right arm twists to touch the ground behind you. Repeat 10-15 times.

Cross-Over Crunch: Lie on the floor with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Place one hand behind your head for support. Engaging your abdominal muscles, slowly lift head, neck and shoulders, and bring left elbow to right knee. Lower slowly and repeat on opposite side. Repeat 10-15 times.

Published March 27, 2008.

SOURCES: Jessica Bottesch, MA, LAT, CSCS, co-owner, Empower Personal Training, North Carolina. Sue Fleming, personal trainer; founder, BuffFitness.com; creator, Buff Fitness line of training DVDs. Janice Novak, MS, founder, Improve YourPosture.com; author/creator of the "Posture: Get It Straight" books and series of DVDs. Cesar Fernndez-de-las-Peñas, PT, Headache, 2006 (Mar);46(3):454-460. Huang, MH, Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 2006 Mar;21(3):419-23. Epub 2005 Dec 5.

©2008 WebMD Inc, All rights reserved.

Last Editorial Review: 3/28/2008