The term “active sitting” might be an oxymoron, but it also might mean the difference between good health and really poor health over time. There’s an abundance of credible research out there about how harmful a sedentary lifestyle can be. When we don’t move for many hours at a time, 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 chairs have been shown to make a positive impact on health. But not all are equally beneficial, so read on to find out how to do it right.
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:
There are also various stretches and exercises that we can do in addition to investing in an active sitting chair or stool. The key aspect of these movements is to focus on your core and to use motion to help keep it engaged so that it doesn’t get lazy and weak, while also making sure it’s loose and relaxed. Some experts suggest the five movements below, depending on your work-life setup, whether you work at an office or at home (or if you’re taking a break from working, at home):
How active sitting chairs help
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 chairs are 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. And slouching all day is just about the worst possible way you can sit and work, unless you try to lay down and work. Actually, that might actually be better than slouching. For kids who sit for half an hour and then get up and play, a balance ball is better than a chair, but for adults at work, it doesn’t help to correct posture or increase beneficial movement.
An active sitting stool is the answer
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. These adjustments can go even further depending on what height you set your ergonomic stool at, which gives you even more options for keeping your body active and your core muscles engaged, at whatever intensity level is most comfortable for you to work with.
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.
Sometimes it’s hard to leave the conventional office chair and desk behind if you’ve been using it for so long, but at the same time, why stick with a work setup that cramps up your muscles and leaves you feeling tired and sore every day? As we often cover when talking about the benefits of using a standing desk, it isn’t so much the standing in and of itself that’s helpful; it’s the movement that standing creates. The less you move, the worse it will be for your health over time, so try to be mindful of how you sit when you work. It could make a big difference in your life in both the near and long term. And for more on choosing the right active sitting stool, check out our feature article on what you need to know about ergonomic stools.
Learn how modern office furniture can revitalize your office or home workspace with our full series of articles below:
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