Peter Strick, a renowned neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh, has expressed a great deal of skepticism about his ultimate credit for yoga and improved posture.
He recently explained the connection between sitting upright and reducing stress and anxiety NPR’s TED Radio Hour.
Numerous studies have shown that you will feel better mentally if you avoid hunched over at your desk or on the phone. Strick doubted it, but was willing to investigate. He had already invented a way to inject a virus into an organ so he could see the nerve pathways connecting the muscles to the brain, and decided to test the link between stress and posture.
“So we injected the virus into the adrenal medulla and followed it back into the brain all the way to the cerebral cortex and then mapped which cortical areas were affecting the adrenal gland,” he told NPR. “And then came the surprise.”
That surprise, outlined in study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is that the human reaction to stress is not only related to the “thinking” centers of the brain. “Other parts of the brain, including those that control our muscles, also send signals to the adrenal medulla,” according to the NPR article.
Strick confirmed that strengthening the core muscles “can modulate that fight-or-flight stress response.” The core muscles, brain and adrenal glands come together.
“There is a clear connection between the way we move, think and feel,” Strick told NPR. “The muscles that control posture, our main muscles, affect the organ involved in stress.”
The relationship between posture and well-being
Other researchers confirm the link between good posture and well-being or poor posture and stress and anxiety. In 2015, 74 people were randomly assigned to a slouched or upright sitting position, and then researchers used physiotherapy tape to hold them in position for a study that was later published in Health psychology.
According to the study, participants with an upright posture showed “higher self-esteem, more excitement, better mood, and less fear compared to slouched participants. Linguistic analysis showed that participants who fell used more negative emotion words, first person singular pronouns, affective process words, sadness words and fewer positive emotion words and total words,” compared to those who were upright.
The team concluded that “sitting up straight may be a simple behavioral strategy that helps build resilience to stress.”
Tea Mayo Clinic claims that “poor postural habits can restrict your ribcage and compress your diaphragm. This can reduce lung capacity, leading to shallow or labored breathing, fatigue and lack of energy, which can affect your overall productivity.”
According to that article, slouching puts pressure on the heart muscle.
Good posture helps with unexpected things, like math. A San Francisco State University study published in the journal NeuroRegulation in 2018 looked at how well college students did simple math, based on their posture. Comparing sitting upright and slouching, 56% said it was easier to count upright, according to a report in ScienceDaily.
“For people who are worried about math, posture makes a huge difference,” said Erik Peper, professor of health education. “The leaning position turns them off and their brains don’t work well. They can’t think that clearly.”
According to the report, Peper and co-author Richard Harvey, associate professor of health education, “say these findings about body position can help people prepare for many different types of performance under stress, not just math tests. Athletes, musicians and public speakers can all benefit from better posture before and during a performance. “You have a choice,” Pepper said. ‘It’s about using an empowered position to optimize your focus.’”
Sitting up straight
Mom was on to something when she told you to sit up straight. But a relaxed body can become a habit – that should be stopped.
Discover Magazine offers some tips to fix that bad posture:
- Align the position of your head with your spine, “without drooping or leaning back.”
- Imagine a thread running from your tailbone to the top of your head. Then tighten that string to pull your head up, your shoulders back, and your stomach in.
- Exercise your core muscles regularly.
- Finally, “if you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, arrange your workspace so that you sit comfortably upright. If you can afford it, invest in an ergonomic office chair.”
And if you’re someone who struggles to stand or sit up straight, Forbes created a guide to the best posture correctors available.