Sit up straight! This common request may have been how you first heard about posture, the way you hold your body. Posture isn’t just about how you look. How you position yourself can help or hurt your health over your lifetime.

Posture is not only about how well you  sit, but how well you move and go about your daily life. How you hold yourself when you’re not moving—such as when you’re sitting, standing, or sleeping—is called static posture. Dynamic posture is how you position your body while you’re moving, like walking or bending over to pick something up. It’s important to consider both static and dynamic components of posture.

Posture can be affected by many things: your age, the situations you find yourself in, and your daily choices. For instance, children may have to adjust to carry heavy backpacks to school and pregnant women move differently to accommodate growing babies.

Your posture involves your musculoskeletal system. This includes your bones, muscles, joints, and other tissues that connect the parts of your body together. It’s what provides form, support, stability, and movement to your body. How you hold yourself can either align or misalign your musculoskeletal system. Throughout life, this system must adapt to the type of work you do, the hobbies you enjoy, how you use electronic devices, injuries, and even the kind of shoes you wear.

You may think that sitting with slumped shoulders or bending at your back instead of your knees sometimes won’t hurt you. But small changes in how you hold yourself and move can add up over a lifetime. Years of slouching wears away at your spine to make it more fragile and prone to injury. Holding your body and moving in unhealthy ways often leads to neck, shoulder, and back pain. Around 1 in 6 Australians have back pain each year. Most are of working age, and an equal number of women and men are affected.

Poor posture can also decrease your flexibility, how well your joints move, and your balance. It can impact your ability to do things for yourself and increase your risk for falls. Slumped posture can even make it more difficult to digest the food you eat and breathe comfortably.

It’s never too early or late in life to work on improving your posture and how you move. One way to improve your posture is to be aware of it in the first place: be mindful  of your posture and how you’re moving. Think about lifting your head, pulling your shoulders back, and tightening your abdominal muscles in everyday situations. Be aware of repetitive postures, like regularly lifting heavy objects, and holding positions for a long time, like sitting at a computer all day at work.

The foundation of good posture is having a body that can support it. This means having strong abdominal and back muscles, flexibility, and a balanced body over your life.

It’s easy to develop suboptimal movement patterns after an injury or from years of pain, but you can learn to distribute your weight evenly and balance your bodies again.

Talk to your chiropractor about your posture. They can give you feedback on how you’re moving, help you avoid unhealthy movement patterns, and work with you to create a plan that’s best for you.