Head up, shoulders back is my tonic for avoiding pain in old age

Now here’s some research I’m not sure I agree with. The latest studies suggest good posture won’t actually protect against aches and pains.

What I’ve learned is that if I switch on my core muscles (pull your belly button in), my neck, back and head all fall comfortably into line and my spine feels comfortable and relaxed. My shoulders drop, my chin tucks in.

I try to remember to do this whenever I’m walking and, touch wood, no back pain.

What seems to matter more, say the experts, is how long you stay in a single position. That’s what will give you aches and pains – spending too long in the same position. In other words, to prevent back pain, keep moving. We’re designed to keep moving.

But some experts say there may be some benefit from sitting up straighter as we get older. Philip Conaghan, professor of musculoskeletal medicine at Leeds University, says: “When you get older – especially in your 60s and beyond – your muscles are losing strength, so sitting up straight may help to work your spinal muscles.”

Even then, he says, it’s general activity levels that are key, adding: “Keeping active will maintain your muscle strength – and that is most important for mobility and reducing aches and pains.”

Interestingly, posture seems to have a bearing on mood. Dr Cosmo Hallstrom, a spokesman for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, says: “It’s common for depressed patients to present with a “despondent” posture – they have stooped shoulders and their head down.”

Research has shown that changing posture can make you feel better.

A 2017 study found that when patients with depression were asked to change their posture, their mood improved. They asked 61 people with depression to give a speech, either sitting normally or pulling their shoulders back (which were then secured in place with tape). Scientists assessed the words they used and way they spoke.

Those with “corrected” posture seemed less tired and more enthusiastic. They spoke more words, indicating that they felt more alert, and they used fewer singular personal pronouns such as “I”, signalling that they had less self-focus. They displayed less anxiety too.

Why posture might have this effect could be as simple as making people feel better about themselves, which, in turn, may trigger the release of “feel-good” chemicals in the brain.

He adds: “Making an effort to keep your head up and your shoulders back won’t cure your depression, but it may play a part in improving it simply by improving how you feel about yourself and the way you present yourself to the world.”