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Gizmo makes you sit up straight – or else

By Kristin Kalning, tech editor

What it is: The iPosture, $64.95 from www.iposture.com.

What it claims to do: This little electronic gizmo is designed to improve your posture. The monitor, which is the size of a silver dollar, senses when you slouch and gives you a gentle electric zap to remind you to sit up straight. If proper posture isn't enough of a draw for you, the manufacturer also claims that sitting up straight can reduce an average of two inches off your waist and make you more successful, attractive and productive.

My experience: During my teen years, I think I heard my mom tell me to stand up straight about 4,286 times. And if she didn't say it, she'd pantomime it with embarrassing gestures –
usually in front of my friends.

Image: iPosture

As I got older – and caught my reflection in a few store windows – I realized that I still slouch like a sullen adolescent.  So the iPosture, a sensor designed to zap me into standing up straight, sounded like an experiment worth trying. It was designed by two doctors – and the packaging promised tantalizing side benefits to a ramrod spine. For one thing, better posture would not only "maximize my height," but also trim my love handles and belly bulges. I'd develop greater confidence and a winning attitude. And, most persuasively, I could look younger and sexier.

I was a little nervous about the zapping thing, though.

The device can be worn on a thin necklace or another close-fitting piece of clothing, like a bra strap. The iPosture also comes with its own stickers, called EZ Sticks, so you can attach it to your skin. The key is to keep it close the collarbone or chest bone.

The iPosture contains a microchip that measures the angle of your body. You tell the sensor what posture you want to maintain, and if you slouch – even a measly inch – you get a buzz. 

I wasn't keen to wear the iPosture as a necklace, so used the EZ Sticks to attach it to my skin. Once the device was secured, I stood up and found a good posture that I knew I could maintain. (iPosture's literature recommends baby steps, not an all-out assault on slouching.) Once I'd figured out something achievable, I pressed the center of the sensor, waited for an answering vibration, and we were set.

The iPosture won't buzz you unless you've been slouching for 60 seconds, so you can sneeze or scratch your ankle without fear of being zapped. And really, the "zap" feels more like a cell phone set on vibrate than the jolt I'd been bracing for.

Not that I got many of those. In one eight-hour workday, I got only about 10 gentle buzzes that my spine was less-than-straight. But at the end of the day, when I took the thing off, my back was slightly sore and I felt tired from all that sitting-up-straight-business.

As it turns out, I'd been overdoing my iPosture sessions. According to the instructions, you're only supposed to wear it four hours per day in the first couple of weeks. This helps train the muscles, joints and nerves to "learn new patterns," says the Web site. After that, you're a posture pro, and need only wear the sensor every couple of days to maintain it. 

I've been wearing the iPosture faithfully for a couple of weeks, and I'm pleased to report that I'm down to about a buzz an hour when I'm at work. If you know you're going to be leaning over a salad bar or hanging out on the couch, you can put the thing to sleep for 15 minutes. Or take it off altogether.

You shouldn't wear the iPosture when you're exercising or doing other heavy physical activity and the literature cautions against wearing it when sleeping or driving (too distracting). But there's nothing that says you shouldn't wear it to a cocktail party, so I thought I'd try that experiment: iPosture, a few glasses of wine and 3-inch heels.

Unfortunately, the iPosture spent the party in my evening bag, next to my lipstick. The bra-strap thing didn't work. I tried sticking it to my skin, but the room was warm, and it slid a couple of times. Party fail. 

What the expert says: Dr. William Madosky, a chiropractic physician in Richmond Heights, Mo., likes the basic idea of the iPosture; he thinks it could do some good in reminding folks to sit up straight. But he fears that it may be tough to live up to the gizmo's demands for very long. 

 "I would guess unless you are highly, highly motivated, you'll use this for a week, maybe a month, and then it will fall by the wayside," he says. 

That's because while the iPosture is a great gadget for maintaining good posture when you're keeping still, it's probably not as useful when you're moving around during your daily activities.

But there are some easier ways to keep picture-perfect posture, Madosky says. If you work in front of a computer all day, instead of concentrating on keeping your back stiff and straight, he recommends taking a few breaks to get up and move around. And throughout the day, do some easy moves, such as pulling your shoulders back, doing small circles with your shoulders and moving your head from side to side and up and down.

Bottom line:  Did the iPosture improve my posture? Definitely. I hold myself straighter, even when I'm not wearing it. It did not, however, magically melt away my love handles and other midriff bulges. And I don't, regrettably, look any younger.

But good posture brings more than just aesthetic benefits. I'm warding off potential back pain in my later years. I'm making it easier for my internal organs to do their thing. And I feel like my breathing is easier now that I'm not crunching my lungs.

Is it worth $65? That depends on how serious you are about improving your posture – and how much you want to impress mom.