PUMPING IRONY: Improve Your Posture, Improve Your Mood

Want to feel better, fast? Stand up straight.

senior citizen walking with cane
Head up, shoulders back! You’ll feel better. Really.

My old friend Leo has taught me a few things over the years: how to put aside emotions when discussing politics (he’s a longtime political commentator), how to live well on very little money, the importance of community and friends. And, as well as he’s mastered these arts during his 73 years, Leo often seems a little beaten down. You can see it in the way he moves — shuffling forward, shoulders hunched, head down.

So, the other day as we were heading out for one of our monthly lunches and discussing the latest polls in the Kansas senate race, I mentioned that he might feel better if he stood up a little straighter. This apparently had not occurred to him, because when he did he suddenly flashed a grin and later remarked that the pain in his hip and shoulder had subsided.

Posture and Your Mood

This was just a hunch on my part — that the way you live in your body can affect the way you feel — but I see now that it’s backed up by research. A study out of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) suggests that, just as mood can affect one’s posture, the way you walk can affect your mood. In a paper published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, study author Nickolaus Troje explained how participants were shown positive and negative words as they walked on a treadmill and told to walk in certain ways in response to the words.

Later, Troje, a senior fellow at CIFAR, and his colleagues quizzed their volunteers on the words they were shown and compared their recollection with their gait on the treadmill. Those who walked like Leo remembered the negative words more than the positive, which led Troje to conclude that their posture had influenced their mood (clinically depressed people are known to recall negative events much more clearly than positive ones).

I’m not saying my old pal Leo is struggling with some degree of depression (though having covered a political beat myself, I know how effectively it can suppress any sense of optimism), and I’m not suggesting that simply standing up straight is going to get you skipping along on the path to Happyland. But Troje’s research and my own experience (as well as these simple posture-improving tips) tell me that it can’t hurt.

So next time I see Leo, I’m going to remind him to keep his head up and shoulders back — and maybe don’t worry too much about that senate race in Kansas.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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