Your mother probably gave you a lot of unsolicited advice growing up. (And maybe now that you’re older she’s still at it, offering “suggestions” on how to wear your hair or raise your kids.) But if she pestered you to sit up straight, she was onto something there.

Sitting hunched over can cause headaches, neck pain and back problems. Straightening up can help you avoid these, but it may also have other health benefits you — and your mother — never dreamed of.

Here’s what it can do.

Help you deal with stress. Interesting research from the University of Auckland suggests sitting up straight when faced with stress can help you keep a more positive, less fearful outlook compared with when you slump. The researchers postulate that muscular states and autonomic states (such as blood pressure heart rate) “influence emotional responding.” Sitting up straight influences these states.

Sitting with good posture provides more space for the spinal vertebrae, allowing the nervous system to function properly, says Mindy Caplan, a personal trainer and American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist.

Improve your self-esteem. The Auckland researchers also discovered people who sat up straight during the experiment felt better about themselves than people who slumped. Other research supports this idea. In 2009 a small Ohio State University study found people who were told to sit up straight were more likely to believe thoughts they wrote down about whether they were qualified for a job.

Deepen your breathing. “When we sit or stand straight we can breathe deeper, giving the body more energy and allowing for better bodily function,” Caplan says. Your lungs have more room to expand and your abdominal organs get more space, she adds. Plus, engaging your abdominals and lifting your ribcage takes pressure off your hips.

Stave off depression. In one small experiment Dutch scientist Erik Peper, PhD, who specializes in biofeedback and holistic health, discovered when people sat up straight, they found it easier to conjure up positive thoughts and memories.

Look good. “You feel better and more confident when you sit and walk erect,” says Caplan.

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How to improve your posture

Want to sit up straighter? When you sit down, put both feet on the floor, says Caplan. Pull your belly in toward your spine to engage your core. With a straight back, lift the crown of your head toward the sky. Meanwhile, try to relax any tension in your shoulders, jaw and hips.

It also helps to strengthen your core and upper back. “Do planks and other core exercises, such as crunches, reverse crunches for the back and rows to strengthen the upper back. And spend a good amount of time stretching the entire body,” says Caplan.

Try these core exercises from the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

Bridge. Lie on your back with bent knees and contract your abs to raise your hips off the floor. Hold the position for three breaths and slowly return your hips to the floor.

Single-leg abdominal press. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Raise your right knee so it points to the ceiling. Put your right hand on the knee and push the hand forward while pulling your knee toward you using your abs. Hold the position for a few breaths. Switch sides.

Trunk rotation. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Contract your abs then let your knees fall to the left as far as is comfortable. Using your core muscles, pull your legs back to the middle. Then drop your knees to the right side and repeat.

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Chelsea Rice is a freelance health writer living in Boston. She's written for, The Boston Globe, HealthLeaders Media and Minority Nurse magazine.