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Your guide to better posture

What if someone told you there was a way to add height to your frame, trim some flab from around your middle, and look more vibrant -- instantly, and without spending a cent? You'd sign up, right away, of course.

The truth is, you can get all these benefits from following a simple bit of advice your mother gave you long ago: Stand up straight.

In the rush to become leaner, stronger, healthier versions of our former selves, many of us neglect our posture. Yet fitness experts who spoke to WebMD say posture is an essential part of the way we look and feel.

Why Posture Matters

The No. 1 reason to stand tall? It looks better.

"When we're slumped over, our folds of excess flab are bunched together," says Lynn Millar, PhD, PT, a professor of physical therapy at Andrews University and a fellow at the American College of Sports Medicine.

The opposite is true, too.

"Good posture makes you look younger, thinner, and taller," says Rebecca Gorrell, a movement therapist at the famed Canyon Ranch Spa. "Other people will see you as more energetic and relaxed."

But that's not all. Good posture, as it turns out, is good for you.

"Forget what it looks like; it's a matter of functioning," says Joan Breibart, president of New York's PhysicalMind Institute and a pioneer of the U.S. Pilates movement.

Most people hunch over when they stand, or sit with one leg crossed over the other, notes Breibart. "This creates compression, by stretching certain ligaments too much and others not enough, throwing the body out of balance," she explains.

When we improve our posture and relieve this compression, bodily benefits naturally follow, according to Breibart: "The internal organs function properly, respiration deepens, the joints are lubricated, blood flows properly."

A balanced body also helps keep joint pain at bay. "Most clinicians agree that people with good posture tend to have fewer muscle imbalances and in turn, less joint pain," Millar says.

For people who suffer from certain health conditions, posture takes on special significance.

Consider stroke victims. They are often left with a severe imbalance in their muscles, resulting in poor posture. "If we can get them into better posture, we open their lungs up and get them breathing better so they fatigue less easily," Millar says.

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