A week into my internship, I experienced pretty serious back pain and slight difficulty breathing. I scheduled a doctor's appointment to make sure nothing was wrong, and I got a surprising diagnosis: bad posture.
Yep, slouching at my desk had caused all of my maladies. In an effort to ease my troubles, I took to the internet to find a solution. From taping a ruler to my back to balancing books on my head, nothing I found appealed to me ... Until I discovered a solution unlike any I had ever seen. Based on recommendations from numerous sites and friends, I've decided to adopt a BYOB attitude at my internship: bring your own (exercise) ball.
You may think that bad posture isn't really that big of a deal, but the negative consequences that can result from slouching are more than mild aches and pains; they can be life-threatening. Posture should be taken seriously, and there are numerous reasons why.
Growing up, I often heard from parents and teachers that slouching shows that someone lacks confidence. Leaders stand tall, sitting or standing in a power position to convey their dominance. While I still believe that a person's posture isn't a reliable indicator of their personality, it is true that people will use it to make assumptions about others. You might lack confidence or, conversely, be the cockiest person in the world, but people will assume the former if they see you slouching. In the workplace, this could be an issue. You want people to view you as an active, engaged, and vital member of the team. Your great work-ethic and strong leadership skills could be overlooked simply because of assumptions made about you based on your posture. While unfair, this is a reality interns face in the workplace.
The human spine has natural curves that form the shape of the letter 'S.' Repeatedly slouching can put pressure on your spine, causing an unnatural curvature to develop. This then results not only in long-term pain and discomfort but actually inhibits the ability of your spine to absorb shock, thus putting extra stress on vertebrae. Consequently, you'll be more prone to injury, some of which could be severe and lead to irreparable conditions such as paralysis.
While it's clear why poor posture could result in physical harm, many people don't realize that it can also worsen depression. Researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand noticed that people with depression tend to slouch more than people without the ailment, so they conducted a study to analyze whether posture can actually impact mood. They gathered participants with mild to moderate depression and asked some to sit up straight while others were told to sit as they normally do. When asked to perform various tasks, the participants sitting up straight appeared more enthusiastic and experienced less fatigue. Although these findings convey the powerful role of posture on both the mind and the body, standing up straight is not a replacement for treatment, nor is poor posture the sole cause of depression. The researchers themselves noted that for those with severe depression, posture is a fairly insignificant factor. However, it does play a role in your mood and thus could impact your productivity at work.
Another major consequence of bad posture is workplace fatigue. Slouching at your desk could reduce your oxygen intake by over 30%, meaning that there's less oxygenated blood flowing to your brain. As a result, your cognitive functioning is slowed, diminishing your mental capacities and hindering your productivity. By fixing your posture, you're helping yourself work as well as you can by bettering your circulation. This, in turn, will make you a better, more productive employee.
Now here's where the exercise ball comes in. Sitting on an exercise ball helps all of this by giving you constant mini workouts that slowly build up your back strength. You're continuously making adjustments and tightening your muscles to stay atop the ball, so you'll be sitting up taller in no time. Naturally, you may be worried about what your co-workers will think, but I wouldn't let that stop you from trying it out. More and more office workers are replacing their chairs with exercise balls, so it's likely there's someone where you work who was thinking about getting one anyway.
It should be noted that, while there's plenty of anecdotal evidence of the benefits of this trick, it's lacking in empirical support. Several professionals have reported that there's no proof that this is helpful, but they've also stated that there are no major issues with trying it. I recommend testing it out for yourself and determining if it's beneficial for you.
If you decide that you'd rather skip the ball, you should still take steps to stop slouching at work. Dr. Jan Lefkowitz shared another solution for bad posture with WonderHowTo.
Sitting on a stability ball at work is a nice improvement but I would stress that it's still problematic being in that position long hours of the day. We see the most significant improvements with our patients when they switch from a sitting desk to a standing desk. Modern standing desks are so easy to adjust and the work surface can quickly be raised and lowered so you can alternate between sitting and standing throughout the work day.
If you're interested in a standing desk, you can easily purchase one on Amazon for as little as $40. If not, simple exercises work to accomplish the same goal — although, they are significantly less fun than sitting on an exercise ball.