This is the first in a special series of articles that I plan to run on new health-improving technologies for busy people.
Bad posture can have serious negative effects on a person's health. As I discussed in an article last summer, poor posture can lead to serious back, neck, and shoulder injuries, and, according to some studies, reduce effectiveness of breathing, cause headaches, and even alter hormone levels in a the human body. Maintaining proper posture can also have psychological, personal, and professional benefits.
Modern life, however, creates many challenges when it comes to maintaining proper posture. Many of us tend slouch or otherwise assume unhealthy positions when typing on computers, watching videos on tablets, or using our smartphones. Aggravating matters is the fact that many of us remain "connected" from the time we wake up until we are in bed at night (and, even then, in many cases, we find ourselves checking email, chat messages, and social media before going to sleep). As such, posture challenges in 2016 can plague us for many more hours per day than they did even just a decade ago, and threaten to cause far more damage to our health over time than they did to our parents and grandparents.
Over the past few months I have tried several products that claim to help people improve their posture. Below I discuss three offerings that I found especially valuable; their positive impact on my own posture was easily noticeable. Keep in mind, however, that because maintaining proper posture involves properly positioning multiple areas of the body, none of the devices that I tested solve all of the possible problems with someone's posture - nor are they intended to. So, for many of us - who tend to slouch in both our upper and lower backs - all three devices could be worth the investment.
SitSmart Posture Plus By BackJoy
SitSmart Posture Plus is a molded piece of plastic with cushioning on top of it that helps force a person to sit with proper lower back posture. Use of this low-tech device with high-tech design is simple: all one has to do is place the device on a chair before sitting down; once I sat down on the device I immediately felt how it caused me to tilt my pelvis in a fashion that made my back straighten out. It took me some time to get used to using the SitSmart - primarily because the device caused me to engage my core muscles while sitting on a comfortable chair on which I had sat in the past in far more relaxed fashion, often with less than ideal posture. Once I got used to the SitSmart, however, it was hardly noticeable - other than to my posture, of course, which clearly improved. Yes, there were times that my posture wasn't perfect - but, all in all, the SitSmart definitely helped me improve my sitting posture (and, naturally, helped me strengthen my core muscles in the process). SitSmart seems like a wise investment for many people trying to correct lower back posture issues, and might help some folks who suffer from lower back pain to reduce their discomfort. Besides actually correcting one's posture, the device also seems to make someone sitting more cognizant of posture in general - so, even though the device aligns the lower back, it can also help with the upper back as well. Keep in mind, however, that it is not difficult to slouch in the upper back and shoulders while keeping the lower back in proper position - so, if you also have upper back posture issues, don't treat the SitSmart as the end-all.
As I mentioned last year, I sit on an exercise ball at times, and have a treadmill desk that I use for a portion of the day as well; I don't plan to give up either in the immediate term, although I find that with the SitSmart on my chair, I am using the ball a lot less frequently than I used to. Also, it is worth noting that while I now use the SitSmart in my office, it can be used in cars or outdoors as well.
Perhaps my most important feedback regarding the SitSmart is that, while I am writing this article on while on my treadmill desk, if you regularly follow my column you have likely read pieces that I wrote while sitting on a SitSmart.
Upright is a small device that trains people to maintain proper posture, especially in the lower back. The device attaches to one's back with one-time sticky-pads, and synchronizes with a smartphone via Bluetooth for configuration and calibration. (The retail box comes with 60 pads - more can be ordered from the company, but 60 should be more than enough to get you through the training necessary in order to see significant improvements in posture). To test this device I stopped using the SitSmart for a few weeks, and then subsequently utilized the training device. During training the Upright vibrates if a person slouches, something that I tested both by intentionally slouching and when I slouched by habit.
Upright is not intended to be worn all day, but rather to train a person for a small amount of time every day in order to condition muscles to maintain proper posture even when the device is not being utilized. In fact, the company specifically noted to me that that they have taken this approach so as not to cause people to become dependent on the wearable. The normal training routine with the Upright starts at 5 minutes per day and gradually works itself up to longer periods of time; the theory behind this approach is that if a person trains on a regular basis, he or she will become accustomed to sitting with proper posture, and will train the muscles involved in doing so, a combination of which will help him or her maintain proper posture even without the Upright in place to alert about posture problems. Upright is, therefore, more of a "training device" or "trainable" than a "wearable."
Today, Upright's training is supposed to be done while sitting, but the results likely also impact a person while he or she is standing. I did notice for a period of time after each training session that I was more consciously cognizant of my posture regardless of in what position I found myself.
Upright seems to focus on lower back issues: I was able to slouch my shoulders while training without getting alerted by the device, but, I did that intentionally in order to test the device - slouching seems a lot less natural with Upright in place, especially since the device does cause the wearer to think more about posture in general. In terms of the lower back, the device consistently detected problems and vibrated both when I tested by intentionally slouching, as well as when I did so by habit. If you want to train yourself to have better posture - especially in the lower back - I recommend checking out the Upright.
I mentioned the Lumo Lift in my article last year, and it remains one of my top product picks for posture correction. The device is small - less than two inches by an inch - that attaches to one's shirt, undershirt, or bra strap with a magnet, and, gently vibrates if the wearer slouches, providing a reminder to correct one's posture. The device synchronizes via Bluetooth with smartphones and tracks posture performance, as well as other health-related information such as steps walked. Of all the devices that I tried, I found the Lumo Lift to be the best at addressing upper back posture problems - which for me is the type of slouching that I tend to do when using a smartphone while standing, or while typing at a computer while sitting - and I am sure that I am not alone in this regard. During my tests, the device quite effectively alerted me when I slouched over a computer while sitting, as well as on many occasions when I have assumed an improper standing position as well.
As expected considering the device's location, however, Lumo Lift missed lower back slouching as long as my upper body was fairly straight -- which is why, as I said before, the best approach to correcting posture issues likely involves a combination of multiple offerings.
Interestingly, the Lumo Lift also offers another feature that may be quite valuable to some people: it seemed to be the most accurate device I have tested when it comes to tracking steps walked while using a treadmill desk; since people walking on such a treadmill desk do not move their hands as they would when naturally walking, many arm-worn step-counting-devices do not seem to detect the walking and track the steps.
The Bottom Line
If you are looking to improve your posture, the Lumo Lift, SitSmart Posture Plus, and Upright are all worth checking out. Each one attacks the problem of improper posture in a different way - for some people, a single one of these products may suffice, for others, leveraging the devices' combined approaches may yield better results. All three are relatively inexpensive - and are certainly orders of magnitude less expensive than treating the types of injuries that posture problems often create.
In my next piece in this special series on health-improving technologies for busy people I will explore some other cool devices that can help people suffering from back pain.