How to improve posture seems to be a topic that’s on everyone’s minds, especially since most of us sit and stare at screens all day. Regardless of how healthy you try to be and how much you may focus on your well-being, we’re willing to bet that you’re neglecting a key part of your body: your spine. The numbers don’t lie: according tot he American Chiropractic Association “31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time…experts estimate that as many as 80% of the population will experience a back problem at some time in our lives.” That’s a lot of people spending a lot of time coping with spinal aches and pains.

While your spine may not be an obvious body part to focus on when working out or focusing on your health, it’s a crucial factor in maintaining a healthy, injury-free lifestyle. According to Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, in a special to CNN, “the spine is part of the central nervous system, along with the brain, and relies on the peripheral nervous system: the millions of nerves that send messages to the brain that control the body’s functions. An unhealthy spine interferes with this entire system, causing a host of unwelcome health issues such as pain, numbness, and weakness in the arms and legs, impaired breathing and digestion and impaired control of the bowel and bladder.” The good news is that in many cases, back pain is avoidable and treatable. It might be as simple as making a few small changes to your everyday habits to ensure a healthy back. Here are 5 ways to re-think about spine health.

1. Slouch Much?
The importance of having good posture is not a myth. As it turns out, your mother wasn’t just trying to annoy you by telling you to sit up straight at the dinner table. If you are sitting carelessly (aka hunched over rather than sitting tall) or walking in a slouched position (with a curved back and drooped shoulders) then you could be doing major damage to your spine. Why is good posture so important for your overall health? According to the Kansas Chiropractic Foundation, “Good posture means your bones are properly aligned and your muscles, joints and ligaments can work as nature intended. It means your vital organs are in the right position and can function at peak efficiency.”

Read Related: 10 Ways to Improve Your Posture at Work


2. Weak Back Muscles
If you are working out regularly you are most likely targeting the major muscles and body parts: your legs, butt, abs and arms. But you might be forgetting to also strengthen your back muscles, which makes sense, since you don’t stare at your back all day. But do not overlook this important part of your body. A strong back not only looks good but it can also rectify discomfort, as “back pain is a sign of muscular imbalances,” explains celebrity trainer, Kathy Kaehler. During your next workout try to focus your time on your back muscles as well as your core (which supports your back).


3. Adjust Your Sleeping Habits
Even though you think you are comfortable and sleeping soundly (and you might be), your sleeping position might not be optimal for ensuring proper alignment and spinal support. As Livestrong reports, the American Chiropractic Association suggests that when sleeping or laying down you use “a pillow so that your cervical spine is kept in a neutral position and to avoid sleeping on your stomach.” In addition, you should look for a mattress that has a medium firmness so that your spine does not curve when you are lying down.

4. You’re Lifting Too Much—The Wrong Way
Many of us lift more than we can carry (literally and figuratively). In the literal sense, if you are picking up objects that are far too heavy (boxes, furniture, grocery bags, your kids…) and you are lifting with your back instead of your legs you can do manage damage to your spine. When it comes to spine health, if something is too heavy to carry then it is better to push than pull, and always use your legs and upper body, not your back when you exert effort.


5. Excess Weight
If you are overweight then those extra pounds could put additional strain on your back muscles, especially if that extra weight is in your stomach or mid-section. A so-called “beer belly” effects your center of gravity and your ability to stand up tall with proper posture, and as we already established, good posture is key for a strong and healthy spine. A healthy diet (and healthy weight) and a healthy back go hand-in-hand, so make sure you practice smart eating habits and regular exercise if you want to really tap into how to improve posture now and always.