A little background
Believe it or not, sitting in a chair is not an inherently human behavior, such as walking or lying down. Chairs are so common these days in workplaces and in all sorts of other social settings that we tend to take the idea of the chair being a natural resting place for the human bum for granted.
In reality, across much of the world, depending on your lifestyle and vocation, chairs don’t play as much of a dominant role. Squatting has been a staple resting position in many Eastern countries for thousands of years, and modern office tools such as ergonomic stools use elements of these more natural human body movements to keep you more physically engaged while working.
The widespread use of chairs and the chronically sedentary lifestyle that they often encourage is a relatively new phenomenon, and it’s turning out not to be such a good one. Researchers have found that preventable health conditions such as heart disease have increased alongside the rise in the sedentary lifestyle of the average office worker. That’s not exactly the kind of result you’d want to read about while sitting “comfortably” at your desk, is it?
So while your new standing desk and ergonomic chair certainly play important roles in improving your health while working, the less-heralded ergonomic stool might be just what you need to shake things up and inject more movement back into your working day.
Health benefits of ergonomic stools
Okay, so we all know that the sedentary life has some serious health risks associated with it. The data is clear: human beings were not meant to sit in one spot, barely moving, for extended periods of time day after day. So let’s take a look at how ergonomic stools can help you move in the other direction, towards a more active, engaged workspace and the health benefits that come with it.
The most important element of an ergonomic stool is that it requires active sitting, also known as dynamic sitting. The design of a well-built stool requires your core muscles to be engaged at all times and subtly requires constant, micromovements. Have you ever seen people sitting on those big exercise balls? They use the same concept.
These micromovements make it less likely that you will sink into an afternoon slump, drop your shoulders and slouch, or float away on a daydream because if you do, well, you might fall right off your stool! That’s a pretty good motivator for keeping your body active.
Just think of how many hours a day you spend not actively sitting. The graphic below puts it into perspective. And even if you are more active than this, imagine how much better of you could still be if you cut down on those sedentary work hours and replace them with some active sitting hours. For more of a deep dive into this aspect, check out our in-depth piece on how active sitting can make a difference.
Engage your core
Core muscles, which include your back, side, pelvic, abdominal and gluteal muscles, keep you stable and upright. A weak core equals a weak body, and vice versa. When used properly, ergonomic stools engage your core muscles and keep them engaged with every movement you make. Whether you’re leaning forward, sitting straight up, have your legs off to the side or straight out in front, each position engages your core in a different way, helping to keep it active and strong.
One of the major drawbacks of sitting for extended periods of time, besides the heightened risk of potentially deadly diseases, is how weak the average modern person's core muscles get. While sitting, the core that supports our upright posture goes slack. This goes way beyond having “tight abs” and deals far more with overall health.
The benefits of a strong core are seemingly endless, from alleviating back pain to making simple, day-to-day movements feel effortless rather than physically draining. Also, don’t forget that simply exercising in high-intensity spurts after sitting for extended periods of time does not match the benefits that engaging your core muscles throughout the day. Building and maintaining core strength definitely falls into the “slow and steady wins the race” category, and an ergonomic stool can help you win that race over time, while you work.
Boost your circulation
The adjustable height settings of a good quality ergonomic stool allow for a range of postures. You can sit, tilt, lean and do everything else in between. As you change the height of the ergonomic stool you start to shift your weight to different muscles in your legs, stomach, and back. Poor circulation can lead to a long list of annoying and painful health problems, from numbness in your limbs to muscle cramps. By spending a few hours at each height you can engage different muscle groups throughout the day, helping to keep your blood circulation flowing at healthy levels.
You can also control the intensity level of your core engagement and active sitting. If you sit on the edge of the stool the intensity will increase, while sitting more centered can allow for a more relaxed core stimulation. You can even incorporate actual mini-workouts by shifting your weight forward and back, or in concentric circles, as you work. So for those who are a little more advanced, maybe you don’t need to hit the gym on your lunch break anymore. Maybe you can transition your workout into one that you incorporate throughout your entire workday!
Again, the beauty of the ergonomic stool is that it offers a huge range of potential benefits, but it’s up to you how much you want to push yourself. You don’t need to go all in to reap the rewards, so it’s a good option for people of varying ages and health.
If you’re concerned that active sitting and the constant movement of an ergonomic stool might be too distracting, then worry not. In fact, the opposite might be true, as studies have actually shown that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) were able to concentrate and focus better when implementing active sitting into their learning process.
It’s all about how you use your ergonomic stool. You can choose to keep the ergonomic stool in a balanced and static position and get along just fine. However, creating a range of repetitive exercises can help you create a certain flow of mental and physical engagement, which in turn helps you focus more intently and be less distracted by your surroundings.
Imagine your grandmother sitting in a rocking chair doing some knitting. Rocking chairs are an early incarnation of active sitting and were used for both relaxation and concentration. Grandma knows best, so maybe we can learn from that and incorporate the same theory to our modern workplace.
And well beyond the benefits of increased circulation and core engagement, the truth is, some people just have more energy than others. Some people actually need to fidget or be in constant movement in order to keep their minds fully engaged. If that’s not you, then you know the type, as your co-worker or manager has the Jimmy-legs shaking at full speed while working towards their big deadline.
If you were that kid who got scolded for doodling while listening to lectures, you’re (probably) not absent-minded, you just have some extra energy that needs to be expended in order for you to give your full mental attention. An ergonomic stool might be a game-changer for you. It’s not a magic bullet but it’s a beautiful hybrid solution between sedentary and active.
What to look for...
Okay, you get all the benefits, but there are so many options on the market for ergonomic stools! We may be a bit biased, but we also know what we’re talking about after spending years researching and developing the best combination of Smart Office tools for our customers.
Here’s what your ergonomic stool needs to include:
5 KEY FEATURES OF AN ERGONOMIC STOOL
1. Strong, weighted base that holds its ground and doesn’t slip or slide underneath you.
2. Supportive, cushioned seat with rounded edges that don’t cut off circulation in your legs.
3. 360 degrees of tilt movement to give you a complete core engagement.
4. Light enough that it’s easy to move around the office however you need to.
5. Height adjustable with easy-to-use pump system.
Remember that the best strategy when implementing your new ergonomic stool is to take it slow, especially if you’ve never tried active sitting before while you work. If you currently spend most of your day sitting, then start by aiming to keep a balanced sitting posture at a regular height. Once you are comfortable with this change in the way you work then you can build out from there and eventually introduce small exercises and movements to your routine.
The ergonomic stool is designed to make your body the main center of support. While an ergonomic chair provides healthy support when you are seated, an ergonomic stool aims to keep you on the edge of your seat, so you can do your best work and feel energized throughout the day.
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