Are You Sitting Healthily In Your Office Chair? Why Right Angled Sitting Is Harmful

It seems that sitting all day in an office chair is slowly killing us all off if we are to believe recent reports and research into sitting.

According to professor Galen Krantz author of the book “The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design” it's not that sitting is a bad thing rather it's the way we do it that causes all the problems.

There is an excellent interview with professor Krantz at the Body Conscious Design website called Beyond The Chair in which she explains what is wrong with the way we sit and how simple changes can help to improve things.

How you sit is important
Krantz draws attention to the perils of right angled sitting, where the body is placed at a harmful 90° angle for hours on end. She highlights the problems this creates:

  • It places your spine in an unhealthy C shape
  • Your chest caves inwards
  • Your pelvis gets crunched up
  • The lower back collapses
  • Your neck gets thrust forwards

All these debilitating postures end up giving us aches and pains due to the unnatural positions we get forced into. So how can we help improve things?

Setting up your work space properly
Simply getting your work area and how you address it sorted can make a big difference according to Krantz. And a lot of it is common sense too.

For example if you use the phone a lot then get yourself a headset. Without it the temptation to wedge the phone between shoulder and ear places enormous strain on your neck.

Adjust your screen so that the center is about 7 to 10 inches below your horizontal line of sight. And look away and focus on distant objects occasionally to keep your eyes healthy.

Set your office chair up so that your knees are below your hips. An angle of about 100° is good as it keeps your back's lumbar curve healthy.

Reposition your mouse and consider getting a vertically operated mouse if you suffer wrist and arm pain.

Switch between different types of chair, say an office chair and a kneeling chair or a ball chair. I alternate between a task chair and a knee chair and it's definitely beneficial. If you are on a tight budget a ball chair is going to be the more affordable option.

Do simple exercises when muscle start to tire. It will keep them toned and prevent them becoming chronically fatigued.

Finally takes frequent strolls even if it's just around the office or home.

The key to most of these suggestions is movement. Your body hates being fixed in one position for too long and this is why 90° sitting is so harmful.

If it's such a good idea why aren't furniture manufacturers making suitable products?
Krantz believes that the furniture industry is aware of what's needed. However she points out that the real problem lies in persuading customers to make the change and that's not easy.

And she is not afraid to argue against products she believes aren't good. She is a big opponent of the Aeron chair pointing out that the lumbar support was only put in because it's what people expect in a good chair. So what does she believe is needed?

Movement and variation of posture is key
Krantz is a big fan of variable height work surfaces. Particularly the ability to perch when sitting as it opens up the body allowing much healthier posture.

In terms of chairs, she likes the rocking action of the Balans chair and also HÅG's Capisco for its perching qualities and the Varier Gravity for lounging while computing. She also gives good advice for sitting in the home as well.

What you do at home matters too
Perching on a stool is good for back strength and she advises keeping the feet firmly on the floor. Work surface height is important and having it set just below elbow level keeps your wrists straight when chopping food for example.

In terms of altering posture Krantz recommends lying down on a hard flat surface with knees pointing upwards and breathing deeply for 15 minutes each day. This acts to relieve lower back pain and muscle fatigue.

Sitting cross legged on the floor is another beneficial posture and using a sloping cushion like the Zafu is handy as it conforms with your body angle.

Putting it all together
Let's look at the key points Galen Krantz recommends for healthy sitting and working:

  • Sitting isn't necessarily bad, it's how we do it that matters
  • Sitting at a closed 90° angle is bad for the body
  • Setting up your work area is important for a healthy posture
  • Doing simple exercises helps keep muscles toned
  • Taking walks around the office is good
  • Alternating working at different heights keeps the body active
  • Developing healthy habits at home is important too.

Further reading
Here's where you can find the Beyond The Chair interview with Galen Krantz. It's presented in a colorful PDF format with lots of useful illustrations highlighting the points in the article.


Why Changing To A Height Adjustable Desk May Be Better Than A New Office Chair

Recent studies and articles have shown that sitting for extended periods is far from healthy.

This isn't altogether unexpected when you think about it, as human evolution developed around hunting, walking and movement. It's only very recently that we have turned all this way of living on its head and got into the unhealthy habit of sitting far more than standing and moving.

This is especially true for anyone involved in office work, which these days is a significant proportion of the working population.

And it doesn't just stop with work because when we get home we then spend even more time sitting watching TV, using computers and mobile devices.

One way to redress this imbalance of over-dependence on sitting is to use a height adjustable desk which enables people to work in either a standing or seated position, switching between the two whenever they feel the need to.

The immediate benefit of sit stand working is your body weight is properly distributed and supported through the hips, knees and ankles when standing. This serves to significantly reduce the pressure on the spinal discs in the lower back and pelvic region which sitting applies as your weight becomes concentrated in these areas of the body the longer you sit.

Whilst a good office chair will help reduce these pressures it won't completely eliminate them. However specialist chairs like the HÅG Capisco and the Via Swopper stool will support you in a semi-standing posture when used with higher work surfaces and so greatly improve the body's weight distribution.

You can read more about the problems with prolonged sitting in this article as well as the health benefits of height adjustable desks for the office.


Why Sit Stand Desking Has Some Way to Go Before Becoming The New Normal For Office Workers

In my last post I discussed an article which has generated a great deal of interest all over the internet. The somewhat provocative title Your Office Chair Is Killing You probably helped in getting attention.

Nonetheless it raises some interesting points and as it concludes perhaps the best way to sit is in a half standing position. I thought I would take a look at the best way of doing this.

Sit stand desking has long been commonplace in Europe, especially the Nordic countries and yet the US has never really embraced the concept. Is this likely to change?

The great advantage of sit stand desking is it allows users to quickly and easily alter their working posture. So if you are fed up with sitting because your back is aching, just alter the height of your desk and stand working for a while.

Alternatively you can work somewhere in between in a semi-perched position using something like HÅG’s Capisco chair.

It helps people work more healthily by improving mobility and circulation as well as curing bad habits like slouching.

So how do sit stand desks work?

At their most basic level there is set up height adjustable desking. As the name suggests it’s possible to vary the height of the desk when you assemble it or set it up. However, once built it’s likely you wouldn't alter it again as it would be too much hassle.

You would need to clear the desk and adjust the leg height so in reality this type of desk isn't truly fully height adjustable.

The most common form of sit stand desk is one where the height is manually adjusted either by a crank handle or a gas spring lift mechanism. This does allow users to easily alter the work height frequently without major upheaval.

The most sophisticated version is the electrically height adjustable sit stand desk. At the press of a button users can quickly and easily raise and lower the desk work surface.

Clearly this is the best option, unfortunately the big downside is price and even an entry level model is likely to be around $1000. Some electric height adjustable tables may be a little cheaper although they would only really be suitable for laptop use.

For this reason progress towards mainstream use of sit stand desking in the US is likely to be slow, although there is definitely more and more interest from designers, architects and other specialist users.

Ultimately price is likely to continue to be the main stumbling block to the wider acceptance of adjustable desks. The nature of the product means the inclusion of expensive components is still necessary, maybe the breakthrough will come from the far east.


Is Your Office Chair Cutting Your Life Short?

A recent Businessweek article had a sobering title Your Office Chair Is Killing You, and will be of interest to those who sit for more than 8 hours a day, which means a lot of people.

It points out how humans aren't designed to sit for hours on end. It’s only relatively recently we have all started to spend so much time sitting and this is all starting to have some nasty side effects.

From a health perspective excessive sitting encourages conditions like hypertension, obesity and high blood pressure, which is not good.

There are additional problems because all your upper body weight is concentrated on the pelvis and spine. However when we are standing and moving our weight is distributed more evenly via our legs, knees and feet.

And as if that wasn't enough to worry about it suggests exercise won't help much either, although I still believe doing regular exercise and stretching has to be a lot better than sitting welded in the same position all day.

One of the best forms of exercise after a busy day in the office is swimming because it allows a huge range of natural exercise for the whole body to take place in a natural supportive way.

The article concludes the best idea for sitting is to perch or sit in a semi-standing position using a height adjustable desk. Sit stand desks have long been popular in Europe and are now beginning to make inroads in the US too.

There are 2 excellent office seats which work well with this way of sitting.

First is the Capisco chair from HÅG, this seat looks kind of odd and yet it is a joy to sit in with its saddle style seat helping to encourage a healthier way of sitting.
Second is the Swopper stool which is also unconventional and has a spring loaded seat helping users to sit and move more actively.

Further Reading
The Businessweek article Your Office Chair Is Killing You
Review of the HÅG Capisco chair
Review of the Swopper stool

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