Perfect posture: The secret to looking thin without dieting

Your mom was right: There's a lot to be said for standing up straight. For starters, it makes you appear taller and more slender. It also can reduce friction in your joints and take stress off your spine. Correct posture not only strenghtens muscles, it also boosts circulation and helps digestion.

The best news? You can easily improve your stance effortlessly. Just make a few adjustments during the day—you could feel better and look 10 pounds lighter!

Brushing your teeth

Don't: Lean forward over the sink. That puts pressure on your neck—which can weaken the vertebrae.

Do: Stand up tall, keep your shoulders away from your ears and hold your brushing arm at shoulder height while squeezing your shoulder blades together.

The payoff: Doing this in the morning prepares your body for the rest of the day.

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Driving the car

Don't: Crane your head and neck forward. That weakens neck muscles and taxes your lower back.

Do: Press your head into the headrest and think of someone pulling the top of your head toward the sky. Keep your chin still.

The payoff: Re-stacks the spine; takes pressure off the lower back and neck, encouraging the shoulders to support the head and neck.

Talking on the phone

Don't: Lean your head to the side or cradle the phone with your shoulder. That can degenerate the disks in your neck.

Do: Use a headset to cut down on muscle tension.

The payoff: Keeps your head balanced over your shoulders, reducing unnecessary strain.

Sitting at your desk

Don't: Stick your chin out to read your computer screen. When your shoulders don't support your head, your neck and lower back feel the strain. Staring down at a laptop improperly also can cause neck and eye strain.

Do: Put your laptop on a flat surface with the screen at a 90-degree angle, then tilt it back 20 degrees. Elevate the monitor on a desktop computer to eye level. Move the keyboard toward you so your elbows are close to your sides and your forearms and biceps form a 90-degree angle. Sit straight and scoot up, leaving 2 to 4 inches between the back of your knees and the chair. Plant your feet evenly on the floor.

The payoff: Less strain on your upper back and neck. You alos minimize the compression of your lower back.

Walking indoors or out

Don't: Stick your rear end out with your chest forward, or lead with your head.

Do: Think about keeping your head, shoulders, abs, knees and toes in one line as you walk. Draw your belly button in toward your core. Push off your big toe (until it bends) with each step and keep toes facing forward. (If you have tight hip flexor muscles, your toes probably point out, so try to retrain them to face forward.) To avoid unnecessary shoulder tension, swing your arms loosely by your sides. To increase the burn when you're walking for exercise, hold your arms at a 90-degree angle and keep your hands free (clip your music player to your shirt, buy a belt that will hold your water bottle and store your keys in a jacket pocket).

The payoff: Standing up straight while walking makes your body work more efficiently as you move throughout the day.

Cooking dinner

Don't: Strain your lower back to reach pots and pans on the stove or shift your weight to one hip while you stir or mix ingredients.

Do: Use food prep time to improve your posture. Try pliés: Stand tall with toes facing out at a 45-degree angle. Tuck your tailbone under and bend your knees until they are over your toes. (Hold on to the counter or the back of a chair if you have trouble balancing.) Keep your chest upright and your hips and shoulders in a straight line. Return to standing. Repeat 12 to 15 times.

The payoff: Eases pressure on your lower back and straightens your spine.

Watching television

Don't: Slump. Your body's muscle memory will lock in the hunch and default back to it later unless you learn proper form.

Do: Put both feet on the ground and sit toward the edge of the seat at every commercial break. Squeeze your knees together and keep your head balanced over your tailbone. Work up to maintaining this posture for 60 minutes.

The payoff: Strengthens your core, helping you keep your hips and ribs aligned with your ears, shoulders knees and ankles

Retiring for the night

Don't: Dive under the covers and turn off the light.

Do: Lie down on your back. Keep your chin neutral instead of pointing it toward the ceiling. Open your palms and allow them to face upward, and let your feet fall slightly to the sides (think 10 and 2 on a clock).

The payoff: Realigns your spine and takes pressure off your vertebrae.