When Dr. Stephen Liu originally decided to pursue medicine, the goal of improving human performance was his primary motivation. Then, when cancer struck his mother, his career found new meaning. The muscle atrophy that resulted from her chemotherapy restricted her ability to sit up straight or stand tall, and Dr. Liu realized that, as a result, her mental energy plummeted and her self-esteem began to decline. When his mother passed, Dr. Liu was inspired to create a posture correcting technology that could be embedded in normal clothing to help all those with posture problems  — not only those with cancer. Now, with his brand IFGfit, Dr. Liu helps thousands of individuals achieve physical and mental well-being. 

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Liu about his brand, the intersection of physical and mental health, the importance of posture, and the power of giving back. Here are his thoughts for the Thrive Global community. 

Why do you think that improving your physical well-being benefits your mental and emotional well-being?

Physical well-being is directly correlated with better mental health, a well-documented phenomenon. Exercise releases chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin that can directly improve your mood and energy and ability to sleep well. Furthermore, improved physical wellbeing through activities such as various exercises can reduce your stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Most importantly, it improves your self-esteem and enhances your confidence. I am a stickler for looking good and feeling good in improving quality of life. It is the main reason IFG stands for I Feel Good, a mantra we want everybody to live and embody. 

Biologically, exercise increases circulation and oxygenation to the brain, which can help you to think more clearly. Additionally, it increases blood vessel growth and enhances the receptors and synapses between the nerve cells in the brain. This can improve your memory and helps your brain amplify protection against injury and disease.

How did creating IFGfit help you find meaning and purpose in your work?

Great question. Being an orthopedic surgeon for 25 years has allowed me to build a vast wealth of research and clinical experiences. One of the most challenging and costly musculoskeletal conditions is chronic neck or back pain related to everyday work or sports injuries. These symptoms often result from weak posterior muscles and stressed joints due to chronically poor posture. Let’s not forget that poor posture and other preventable conditions cost our country dearly each year – over $380 billion!  

After my mom’s passing, I was determined more than ever to innovate a medical device to perfect posture and lessen neck and back pain to improve quality of life; secondarily I wanted to help reduce health costs due to poor posture and related musculoskeletal injuries, which are definitely addressable with good habits and preventative self-care.

How does improving your posture improve your productivity?

Poor posture affects productivity, but by learning how to sit or stand properly, you can further boost your energy, blood circulation, brain function, stamina and thus be primed to accomplish more during the day.

Difficult tasks, hostile clients, or boring projects take the fun out of work. However, if any of these productivity killers affect you, use posture to your advantage. I recommend standing up and taking a few deep breaths, extending your lower back and retracting your shoulders back a few times each hour. In addition, when you need to start a challenging project or write a cumbersome report, stand tall, or sit straight instead of hunching. Your expansive posture will assist you in doing the tasks that stand between you and success. Proper posture also maximizes spine comfort to keep you feeling fresh and alert in order to be productive.

What tips do you have for readers looking to improve their posture?

Having good posture requires discipline and long term spinal muscle re-training. Understanding your body mechanics and re-training your posterior elements is the first step in improving your posture and lessening back pain. I would highly recommend everyone do exercises to retract your shoulders daily, to raise your arms as high as possible, to do yoga poses such as the Cobra, Supported Fish, Bridge, Camel, and Bow to strengthen the core, back and spinal muscles.  If you work at a computer, make sure to sit properly and position your tablet, monitor or laptop at eye level to reduce neck strain and shoulder rounding.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of running IFGfit?

Seeing how people react to our products, and how they have been helped physically and mentally. We’ve helped thousands of users across the spectrum in the year since we’ve launched.

Our technology is powerful enough for regular use by an increasing cohort of professional athletes and is equally well suited to people who work in offices or other capacities who are more recreationally active, making it an everyday, lifestyle solution.

Can you elaborate on your views on the power of giving back and how your brand has worked to support local communities?

Our mission has always been about giving back: from communities to individuals in need, the disabled, healthcare workers, and first responders to the everyday consumer. We recognize the importance of providing relief and support to those in need and are proud to do our part to make a difference.

Recently, we have created and maintained jobs in supporting several small community factories, particularly as COVID-19 first struck, and millions of workers across the country were laid off. We made it a key effort to keep our local factories going by switching manufacturing fully to creating washable filtered masks for healthcare workers and first responders. We have donated over 10,000 high-grade washable filter masks to healthcare workers, hospitals, first responders, law enforcement, local governments, and significantly subsidized tens of thousands more to communities across the United States.

Additionally, we have also donated our posture activewear products to many to improve people’s quality of life. From those in the disabled community struggling to improve their posture during and outside of work to adaptive sport wheelchair athletes in improving their performance, breathing, and quality of life as well as those seeking our products to manage side effects from their genetic or acquired illnesses.