There’s an abundance of credible research out there about how harmful a sedentary lifestyle can be. All of our major organs, including the brain, eventually go into slow-motion mode (except the pancreas, which bombards our cells with insulin). It’s a bad scenario.
Having said that, sometimes you just need to sit to get certain work done. Thankfully, active sitting has been shown to make a positive impact on health. But not all active sitting is equally beneficial, so read on…
Why static sitting does damage
One of the most harmful aspects of sitting for long periods of time is that your core loses strength, your back becomes stiff and you often end up slouching. This creates a perfect storm of factors that contribute to muscle loss and disc degeneration down the line. All of these issues are not necessarily erased by interjecting movement throughout the day, but it certainly helps.
In our backs, it isn’t just muscle stiffness we’re feeling, it’s actually collagen in the ligaments and joints hardening from poor circulation. While standing up to stretch may feel like a huge relief, the reality is that the process just continues when you sit back down 30 seconds later.
Check out this great illustrative post from the Washington Post about how sitting affects various parts of your body:
So what can we do? The experts recommend...
How active sitting helps
Active sitting is a way of emulating the natural movements you make while standing and walking. While a core exercise routine is great, the relatively short period of exercise doesn’t make up for the eight hours you spend sitting in a chair at work. Even during light activity, such as walking around the house or standing and talking to someone, we engage our cores much more than when we’re just sitting against the back of a chair.
Research has shown that humans naturally adjust their posture 2–3 times per minute when standing, engaging all kinds of muscles that support healthy posture. When we sit statically in a normal chair, these muscles relax and weaken. Active sitting incorporates the cumulative benefits of these micromovements into a seated position.
Not all active sitting is equal
There are a few different options for active sitting, but many aren’t ideal for your office or workspace. While balance balls do help attention-challenged students focus better in the classroom, research done in the workplace has shown that people tend to slouch just as much as they do in a normal chair. For kids who sit for half an hour and then get up and play, it’s better than a chair, but for adults at work, it doesn’t help to correct posture or increase beneficial movement.
The right active sitting
What has been shown to be effective in improving posture and engaging the right muscles is an ergonomic stool, provided you choose one that allows for a range of motion while sitting. With a smaller surface area for the seat and no back to lean against, it encourages better posture and leg movement while still giving you enough support so that you don’t resort to slouching.
You can also control how much core engagement you have depending on how you sit. When the stool is tilted forward so that you are perched on the edge, it engages your core even more, while sitting more centered and straight-up helps take some of the pressure off.
The other benefit that researchers noted with a “wobbling” stool is that motion can actually help you focus. For self-described fidgeters, the freedom to rock, sway and even bounce without leaving your chair helps let out energy that would otherwise distract you. And if you use a standing desk, an ergonomic stool can help make standing feel less cumbersome by giving the option for a quick, comfortable break without having to lower your desk to a fully-seated position.
For more on choosing the right product to help your active sitting, check out our feature article on what you need to know about ergonomic stools.
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