Want to know the secret to legendary actress Audrey Hepburn’s allure? Whether dining at Tiffany’s or riding her Vespa in the streets of Rome, she simply had great posture. Fast-forward to today, and what Hepburn knew intuitively has been proven: People with good posture are perceived as more attractive. Still other psychology research has shown that we look slimmer when we stand up straight, and that posture can affect our mood and behaviour.
But there are plenty of other practical reasons to think about posture. Body alignment controls what we can and cannot do-especially as we get older. Once our alignment is off, tight muscles get tighter, weak muscles get weaker, and posture declines even further.
Bob McCollum, adult program director at Canada’s National Ballet School, begins every new class with a lesson on “ideal posture,” also referred to as “standing posture.” Not only is it the key to achieving the grace and elegance of a ballet dancer (no one wants to see a slouching swan or crooked Sugar Plum Fairy, after all), it’s also the foundation for safe, comfortable and effective movement. “Without good posture, you’re more prone to pain and injury,” says McCollum. Good posture also helps keep your organs and muscles working optimally, which in turn improves performance-whether you’re a competitive athlete or just someone who is trying to keep fit.
Fabio Comana, exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise, says the philosophy in the fitness industry today is “straighten before strengthen” because starting a workout regimen with faulty posture will only perpetuate any problems that already exist.
According to Comana, there are three areas that are commonly misaligned: the shoulders, hips and ankles. Stretching and strengthening exercises help to fine-tune the muscles around these joints and restore ideal posture. He says everyone would benefit from some simple “maintenance” exercises that target the flexor and extensor muscles at the ankles, hips and shoulders. Here’s what he recommends: