4 Posture Exercises to Help You Sit Up Straight

Slumping at a desk all day can lead to muscle and tension, as well as headaches. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

o many of us sit hunched over our desks all day — sometimes into the evening too. With our shoulders hunched and our backs bent, we pore over our computer screens with no thought to the harm we're doing to our bodies — and it's plenty. Most rounding of the back is normal, but kyphosis is a term used to describe an exaggerated rounding of the back. A person with kyphosis may give the appearance of being hunched over. Being in a constant position of leaning forward can make the spine bones more susceptible to a break. It also leads to muscle pain and tension, and can contribute to headaches.

Even if you don't have clinical kyphosis, there's plenty reason to start exercising these muscles if you don't already. As a species, we are the most sedentary we've ever been throughout the history of mankind. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to a whole host of problems, some life-threatening. The solution? Get active. While you're working on that, here are some simple stretches and exercises you can do right at the comfort of your own desk (or at the very least, a few feet from it), to improve your posture and to repair the damage that sitting hunched over can create:

1. The thoracic bridge

This is arguably the most effective exercise to benefit your posture, and that's because it engages so many muscles at once. It also forces you to get a bit more active than just sitting up in straight in your chair would do. The exercise involves starting in a crawling position, with your knees slightly raised from the floor. Check out the video above to see exactly how the exercise works. It doesn't take more than 30 seconds and if you do it a few times a day, you'll be doing your back and your neck a world of good.

2. Chair stretch

You can do this simple exercise in your chair. Sit up straight and tall, then extend your arms out in front of you, keeping your shoulders low and your ab muscles tight. Then slowly bring your elbows back so that they are in a horizontal line with your shoulders, all the while keeping your shoulders low. You will feel your pectoral muscles activate as you open up your chest. Watch Lifehacker's video above of this posture exercise and a few others.

3. Hand rotations

To prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, try taking your hands off the keyboard every few minutes and rotating your hands in a circle, exercising your wrist muscles. This will help keep the muscles limber and prevent them from clamping up. See more carpal tunnel prevention exercises above.

4. Head presses

From the National Osteoporosis Foundation: Sit with your middle and lower back well-supported in a chair. Then, move your head straight back as far as possible. Keep your chin level with the floor and look straight ahead. Do not tilt your chin or forehead. Hold your head back in this position for 3 or 4 seconds. Then relax back into your normal posture for a second or two. Now repeat 5 times and do this exercise several times a day. See simple illustration at right and similar exercises in video above.

Some suggest that sitting on a stability ball (also known as an exercise ball) will help you improve your posture as well, sits you are constantly engaging your abdominal muscles to maintain your balance. Others say the lack of armrests actually puts more pressure on your neck and back muscles. Other suggest standing while at work at a standing desk, which is said to help prevent conditions brought on by a sedentary lifestyle, such as obesity and diabetes.

Whichever way you slice it, we all spend a lot of time at the computer these days, and doing some posture exercises can only help improve our general neck and back health.