We all remember being told to stand up straight and not to slouch as children, but it turns out there is a very important reason for it now that we are older. Bad posture causes pain in the neck, shoulders and back.

It isn’t just standing incorrectly that causes problems. Working at the computer for hours each day frequently results in neck, shoulder and lower back pain.

Why Posture Is So Important

Did you know your head weighs 10 to 12 pounds? It’s literally the equivalent of having a bowling ball sitting on top of your spine, so you can easily see how much stress it puts on your neck to have your head hanging forward. Even just letting your shoulders roll forward can lean your head enough to create stress.

Cell phones are another common culprit, and their near-constant use for things like texting and watching videos has resulted in a condition called “tech neck.” People who have their head leaned forward, looking down at their handheld device create the effect of 27 to 60 lbs on their cervical spine (the seven vertebrae of the spine that form the neck). That’s an awful lot of weight for those small bones to support!

What You Can Do to Improve Your Posture—and Avoid Painful Consequences

Sit Correctly – To sit properly for best health, place both your feet flat on the floor with your chair height adjusted so your knees and hips are at the same height, or your knees are slightly higher than your hips.

Your back should be supported against the back of your chair. If the chair is too deep, as many are for women, you may need to get a support to put behind you. Keep your back against the chair to avoid the tendency many people have of hunching forward over the keyboard.

Your arms should hang down to the elbow, with the lower arm at about a 90-degree angle. Keyboard trays that extend out from beneath the desktop can be a big help for getting the keyboard at the right height.

Stand Tall When on Your Feet – Keep your head balanced over your spine when you are walking or standing. Look straight ahead to keep from drooping your head forward and putting pressure on your neck (just like when you practiced by walking with a book balanced on your head), but you still have to be mindful of what’s on the ground—we don’t want anyone to trip and fall!

When you walk, be sure to place your heel down first and roll forward on your foot as your weight shifts. It’s also very important to use your core muscles to support your spine. If you’d like to learn more about strengthening your core, the Ageless After 50 blog has a post called Best Core Exercises for Women Over 50 that has good info and a couple of the best core exercises for people with back pain, whether you are over 50 or not.

Your shoes can also be part of the problem. High heels may be stylish, but they throw off your whole body’s alignment, so it’s best to avoid them, especially if you will be on your feet for any significant amount of time.

When something as fundamental as posture can avoid or relieve pain, it’s certainly worth putting in a little effort to improve it. Be mindful of your posture and gently correct it when you notice you are slipping into bad habits. Repeatedly making the corrections will soon result in your normal posture being balanced and correctly positioned.