By Pure Matters

Good posture can help your body function at its best. It promotes movement, efficiency and endurance, and contributes to an overall sense of well-being. It can also help prevent chronic aches and pains that can require medical attention.

"Pain and injury from faulty posture doesn't happen overnight," says Z. Annette Iglarsh, Ph.D., P.T., chairperson of the physical therapy department at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

To avoid posture-related aches and pains, Dr. Iglarsh offers these suggestions.

Sitting right

At your desk, keep your feet flat on the floor with your hips bent slightly forward. Sit with your back firmly against the chair and keep your trunk upright so the lower body supports it.

Position your computer monitor so you don't have to look up or strain your neck to see it. Keep your head straight, not tilted or turned to one side.

"Two injurious postures to avoid are slouching, which can overwork your neck muscles and put pressure on your spine; and cradling the phone, an abnormal posture that overstretches the muscles on one side of the neck and crunches the muscles on the other," says Dr. Iglarsh. She recommends using a telephone headset if you use the phone frequently or for long periods.

Walking the walk

The standard gait is a heel strike, then toe push-off. Any other movement can put a strain on your body over time.

To walk correctly, keep your head erect with your chin parallel to the ground. Allow your arms to swing naturally and point your feet in front of you. Also, balance the weight equally when you walk while carrying heavy objects. Pack two small suitcases instead of one large one, and carry your groceries in two bags instead of one.

"Platform shoes, loose shoes and shoes with heels that are too high all can change your gait and cause back pain and painful foot conditions," says Dr. Iglarsh.

To avoid these problems, wear supportive walking shoes when walking for fitness or to and from work.

Reserve higher-heeled shoes for meetings in which walking or standing isn't involved, or don't wear them at all. Also, buy shoes with padded arch-supportive soles that feel comfortable as soon as you try them on.

Standing tall

To maintain good posture while standing for long periods, keep your hands at your sides and your abdomen drawn in as if you're trying to flatten your stomach. Avoid tilting your pelvis, allowing your belly to fall forward. "Doing so increases the natural curvature of your back, which can lead to back pain," says Dr. Iglarsh.

Sleeping comfortably

To ensure healthful posture while you sleep, rest on your side and put your head on a thin pillow that doesn't tilt your head upward.

Bending your knees slightly will reduce the strain on your lower back. Your arms should be at your sides; bringing them up by your head can compress nerves and arteries.

"And when you're lying on your side, put a pillow between your legs to prevent your top leg from going forward and twisting your pelvis," says Dr. Iglarsh.