All the tips you need to stand up (or sit up) straight. 
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You might think good posture should look something like a puffed-up, cartoon soldier: chest forward, chin up, and back swayed. But actual good posture should look much more natural and neutral than that—and be something we all know how to do without even thinking about it (which, sadly, is not often the case). The good news is that posture is something you can work to improve.

"Good posture is when all of the structures, joints, muscles, and connective tissues allow for optimal range of motion with no restriction of movement," explains Pete McCall, NASM-CPT, PES, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), and Voltaren spokesperson. What is correct posture when at rest (sitting or standing) supposed to look like? It involves stacking everything up nicely: "Ideal posture is [having your] spine straight, neck straight (not leaning forward), shoulders level over your hips, a relatively level pelvis, and neutral knees (not collapsing in or splayed out)," McCall says.

If you want to work on improving your posture, experts weigh in below on how to do just that, as well as decrease pain, feel more alert, and even sleep better. 

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1 Understand the setbacks of slouching.

You've heard you need to "stop slouching." Easier said than done—so why bother? "Unfortunately, allowing your shoulders, upper back, and neck to slouch forward could result in them becoming stuck in those positions," says McCall. "Steady forward slouching can lengthen tissues and change bony structures (bone is mostly collagen and will grow in response to applied force) to a point where they'll adapt to the new positions." In other words, your habit will just reinforce itself. Also, when you're hunched over, you're no longer engaging your stabilizing core muscles that help protect your spine. This can put undue pressure on your hips, discs, and other joints, which can lead to more lasting pain or damage. 

"If you feel your shoulders rounding forward, think about keeping your spine tall and chest lifted," he adds. "When sitting, keep your spine long and shoulders pulled back. That will help align the intervertebral segments of the spine so there's less strain and a lower risk of injury.

RELATED: The Unassuming Trick That Helps You Kick Back Pain From Sitting All Day

2 Become very aware of your posture.

Awareness is often the first step to breaking, changing, or forming a habit. First, make a conscious effort to pay attention to how you're sitting or standing—or slouching. Simply start to observe (without judgment) how you tend to sit in your desk chair, how you stand in line at the grocery store, how you hunch over while texting. Once you become aware, take small actions toward forming the habit of keeping good posture (knowing that you won't always be perfect—and that's OK). For example, set reminders on your phone or calendar intermittently throughout the day to check in physically. A gentle reminder that reads "sit up straight" or "posture check-in" is an excellent external prompt to keep you honest. Eventually, you won't need help to remember good posture.

3 Create an ergonomic workspace.

An ergonomic desk or office setup will encourage proper posture, optimize comfort, and help reduce aches and pains from sitting (or standing) while working. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are a few simple ways to create an ergonomically sound workspace. For example, your chair should support the natural curves of your spine in a neutral, upright position and be the right height so that your thighs are parallel to the floor and feet are flat on the floor (or a foot rest). The monitor should be a comfortable arm's length away, directly in front of you, and in line with your line of sight. "Try not to look down at your phone," McCall says. "Hold it at eye level so your neck doesn't have to extend forward and your shoulders don't have to round."

Small tweaks like these will help keep your head, neck, shoulders, hips, and back all aligned in a natural way. If you work in an office, check with your employer about a company ergonomist, who might be able to troubleshoot your desk setup or switch you to an adjustable desk. If everything is set in its ergonomic place, it'll be so much easier to maintain good posture throughout the day and avoid strain.

4 Move more often.

The human body wasn't made to sit for hours on end, says William Smith, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and coauthor of Exercises for Perfect Posture. To combat the pain, set reminders to stretch or walk every half hour for several minutes. Moving around helps blood circulate, bringing oxygen and nutrients to muscles and helping wash away some of the substances that cause soreness. This can improve mobility and strength in parts of the body that help with posture. Work on strengthening your abdominal muscles, such as your transverse abdominis (here's how to do that), which are key stabilizers for the spine and hips that support proper posture. Resistance band exercises are also excellent for building strength and stability in the muscles between the shoulder blades responsible for keeping you upright.

RELATED: Is Your Lifestyle Too Sedentary? Here Are 8 Signs You're Not Moving Enough

5 Practice Breathing

Posture isn't really about forcing your shoulders back, says Jill Miller, creator of the fitness method Yoga Tune Up and author of The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility, and Live Better in Your Body. It's about helping your spine find its most efficient shape—force shouldn't be part of the equation. Your skull should rest over your rib cage, directly above your heart, creating a gentle wave in your spine. An easy way to fix your posture is to pay attention to your breathing: For you to take truly deep breaths, your spine must be in proper alignment, with your ribs moving together with your breathing muscles. As you breathe in, visualize sending the breath toward your stomach, then expanding it into your chest.

6 Stretch it out.

When the chest and neck muscles are too tight, they contribute to hunching, Miller says. Try this stretch: Interlace your fingers behind your head, resting them on the base of your skull. Broaden your chest as you arch your upper back, gently pulling your elbows backward and gazing at the ceiling. Or relieve neck tension with a small tennis or massage ball: Lean forward slightly and rest the ball between a solid surface (a door jamb works well) and the spot above your collarbone and below your shoulder. Knead the ball into the muscle, then switch sides. As always, don't forget to take deep breaths.

RELATED: 3 Gentle Stretches for Upper Back and Neck Pain

7 Choose the right pillow.

An unsupportive pillow can cause neck pain and possibly play a role in poor posture, says Rebecca Robbins, PhD, coauthor of Sleep for Success. Stomach sleepers might find they don't need a pillow, since this position can help keep the body aligned. Back and side sleepers may want to use a pillow to fill the space between the shoulder and neck. (When you sleep on your side, your shoulder can be compressed by your body weight, straining your neck.) Since side sleepers have the largest gap to fill, they'll typically need the thickest pillow. No matter your sleep position, some of the most posture-friendly pillows are high-loft, down-feather ones that conform to the body.