We tend to think of the hands and arms as carrying the workload for the upper body, but it’s really the shoulders that should bear or “shoulder” that weight. Most of us don’t realize how hunched over we are from sitting at computers, traveling in cars and airplanes, and carrying backpacks and briefcases. People tend to think that this affects only the elderly, but that’s not the case. The next time you’re people-watching, pay attention to the position of people’s thumbs

If they’re rotated in, pointing toward the centerline of the body, chances are their heads and shoulders have rotated forward—or soon will. Unless those people do something, I guarantee that they soon will have rotator cuff, back, and neck problems, which will limit their ability to participate in the daily activities of life. This is often an issue with taller women, especially those who hit a growth spurt at a young age. They feel awkward since they haven’t grown into their bodies and look different from their friends. 

They haven’t yet realized what an advantage height can be in life. So what do they do? They subconsciously slouch over to make themselves appear shorter so they don’t stand out in the crowd. They end up with pain in their neck, lower back, and shoulders because their posture is so flexed forward. Our natural instinct is to drop the shoulders forward, especially after long periods of sitting. But you ought to do the opposite: Elevate your sternum and let your shoulder blades hang back and down, which will give you proper posture. Imagine yourself “feeling tall,” as if there’s a fishhook inserted under the sternum, pulling us up.

To make lasting change, you must lengthen your “internal rotators” (chest and lats) and strengthen the “external rotators,” the muscles of the upper back, rotator cuff, and the rest of the shoulders. This posture is the exact opposite of the shoulder shrug, the motion you make when you say, “I don’t know.” If you make a habit of bringing your shoulders down—think of dropping your shoulder blades into your back pocket—you’ll be amazed at the results. People will find you more confident and think you’ve lost weight because you’re no longer slouched over. They might even think you’ve grown. How is that possible? Think about it. 

You probably know someone, perhaps a grandmother or elderly friend, who is not as tall as she used to be. Age and perhaps osteoporosis have pulled her head and neck forward, giving her a permanent hunched-over appearance. At that point there’s not much that can be done for her. But if you’re a younger woman, it’s not too late. Without realizing it you may have lost a quarter to a half inch by slumping over. By bringing your shoulder blades back and down, as well as improving hip and core stability, you’ll get that height back. More important, you’ll appear more confident and dynamic, as if you’re gliding through life like the successful woman you are.