Posture mistakes that make you look older

We've all been told to sit up straight by teachers, mothers, and just about anyone in the health field. As a wife to a physical therapist, I am often called out for my poor posture while slouching over the kitchen counter checking my phone.

Sure, we're supposed to stand up straight, because . . . why again? We've always been told do so, but what is the big deal? It turns out posture affects just about every area of our bodies. According to the Mayo Clinic, poor posture can lead to headaches, neck and back pain, knee and hip pain, shoulder pain, and even fatigue and breathing problems.

While of course I don't want to develop chronic pain, those risks aren't always enough to pull me off the kitchen counter. However, the risk of looking older got my attention. Just like how I wear sunscreen to avoid wrinkles instead of skin cancer, I'm ready to sit up straight if it gives me that youthful glow. Here are just some of the ways that good posture can keep you looking young and fit and how poor posture can age you.

Why does good posture matter?

Good posture leads to a mountain of positive changes. Standing and sitting up straight take pressure off our muscles and joints. It also leads to a strong core and back.

In addition to all of the physical benefits, good posture just makes you feel better. Sitting up tall can help alleviate stress. Studies have also linked good posture with increased self confidence. In a study from Ohio State University, researchers found that study participants who sat up straight were more likely to believe that they were qualified for a job than their slouching peers.

Good posture can even help improve or prevent depression. "We tend to think the brain and body relationship goes one way. In fact, the passages go both ways," San Francisco State University professor of Health Education Erik Peper told SF State News. "When you choose to put your body in a different mode, it's harder to drop into depression." So essentially good posture can trick your brain out of being depressed.

Slouching in your chair

Slouching in your chair is a quick way to start looking older than you are. Sitting this way puts strain on your sensitive back muscles, pulling them and causing soreness. When your muscles are sore and fatigued, it's natural to just keep slouching over, making you look older.

Slouching in your chair could mean the height of it is too high or low. When your chair is too high, your legs dangle. Sure, this could make you look younger like a little kid, but if you do it too long you'll be looking much older. This dangling can lead to decreased circulation in your legs and even lead to varicose veins. Hello, Grandma! If your chair is too low, leaning forward in it can put stress on your low back and even lead to disc issues. And always talking about your herniated disc is definitely going to make you seem older.

Fix your slouching by fixing your chair. If your chair is adjustable, make sure your feet are on the ground, and both your hips and knees are at a 90 degree angle. Avoid crossing your legs and keep your ankles slightly in front of your knees. Even better, make sure you're taking plenty of walking breaks throughout the day.

Slouching while standing

When we slouch while standing up, we create a flat low back as we sit into our hips. This causes our head and neck to lean forward, putting stress on the neck. It also gives us that "old lady" stance. To stand up tall, it's important to have a strong core, back, and glutes to hold our bodies upright. Work on core-strengthening exercises like planks to help hold you up taller.

This hunching forward can also lead to rounded shoulders. Not sure if you've been doing this? Stand in front of the mirror and let your arms hang at your sides. If your knuckles naturally face forward, that means your shoulders are already rounded. Work on stretching your chest muscles and strengthening your upper back to offset this.

Hunched at the computer

Hunching over your computer or phone may make you look like a teenager at first, but it will quickly age you. Hunching usually comes from a weak upper back and tight chest muscles. Hunching over your phone or computer can lead to upper and lower back pain. It can also lead to painful trigger points or muscle "knots" in your upper back. Do this every day, and you'll start to develop a rounded upper back, giving you a slight humpback look. Once you develop your humpback, all you'll need is a walker to complete the look of someone decades older than you.

To combat this hunching that we all do, work on stretching the front of your body and strengthening the back.

Leading with your chin

Most of us are guilty of leading with our chins when we're staring at the computer. Your upper body leans forward, while your head looks up at the screen, causing our chin to come forward. "When you look up at a monitor that is too high, the neck is forced to extend," chiropractor and wellness expert Dr. Kyra Gerber told CBC. "This compresses the joints in the neck and causes fatigue in the muscles, which could lead to inflammation, pain and headaches."

Fortunately this one can be solved with a simple redesign of your workspace. Make sure your chair isn't too low and your screen isn't too high. You should be able to sit up straight and look straight at your screen, keeping your neck in a neutral position.

Bad posture makes you feel weak

Shrinking down in bad posture not only makes you look older, it actually makes you look and feel weak. Across all species, posture sends a message about power. When you stand up straight and look the world head on, you look like a force to be reckoned with.

A study in Psychological Science found that standing up straight and taking up more room with your posture, such as with hands on hips instead of hanging at your sides, made study participants feel more powerful. Standing this way even changed their hormone levels. Participants had elevated levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisone. This means they were feeling more powerful and less stressed at the same time, just by standing up tall!

Bad posture makes it hard to breathe

If you've ever felt fatigued running up a flight of stairs or racing to the door, don't just chalk it up to age. We often think any health change is just what happens when we're not a teenager anymore or perhaps we're out of shape. However, shortness of breath, achy muscles, and even acid reflux could actually be coming from posture mistakes!

"Headaches and tension in the shoulders and back are often created by chronic bad posture," Peggy W. Brill, a physical therapist based in New York City and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association, told TODAY. "If you're slouching, you may also have gastrointestinal reflux or feel fatigued because you're unable to breathe deeply." Make sure you're giving all your vital organs room to breathe by standing up tall.

Check your posture

If you're concerned about your posture, the Mayo Clinic recommends using the "wall test" to see how you're doing. Stand with your back against the wall, making sure your head, shoulder blades, and bum are touching. Next slide a hand between your low back and the wall. Ideally, there should barely be enough space to fit your flat hand. If there's more room, it means you're arching your back too much. If your low back is already right up against the wall, gently move it away so you can fit that flat hand. Once you achieve your perfect posture, step away from the wall keeping your alignment. You can try this throughout the day to reset your posture.

The best way to fix your posture is to do it right away. The longer you hang out in a slouched, hunched over position, the more damage you'll do and the harder it will be to reverse. "Correcting your posture may feel awkward at first because your body has become so used to sitting and standing in a particular way," physiotherapist Nick Sinfield told the UK National Health Service. "But with a bit of practice, good posture will become second nature and be one step to helping your back in the long term."

How to prevent these mistakes

First take a look at the activities you do every day. If you must sit at a desk for work, make sure your chair is nice and high so you're not having to look up at your screen. Aim for having the address bar at the top of your screen at your eye level. Working with a laptop? A stack of books under it could be just the thing to bring it to the right height.

Next keep your keyboard close to your body to avoid reaching forward. Also, our bodies are meant to move, so make sure to take plenty of standing and walking breaks.

Finally, we also need strong muscles to hold our bodies upright. Make sure to fit stretching and strengthening into your week. Yoga is perfect for this and really focuses on proper posture and alignment. I was recently in a yoga class and was shocked when the instructor told me he was 75 years old. Not only was he the strongest and most flexible person in the room, he simply just looked young. Keep those muscles moving and grooving if you want to keep that youthful look.