Technology has done some crazily wonderful things for us, but freeing us from our seats isn't really one of them. In fact, people are sitting an average of 7.7 hours a day (and up to 15) between work and sedentary home activities, such as watching TV. That might give the impression that Americans love sitting on their bums, but that's not the case. A survey by Ergotron found that 7 out of 10 people hate sitting. Some of that hatred might have to do with the chairs everybody uses.
Three big problems
So what's so awful about chairs, anyway?
- Sitting in traditional chairs such as you find at typical offices around the country and at home has been linked to a range of health problems affecting the entire body. Poor circulation, metabolic syndrome, blood clots and increased risk of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and cancer all are conditions connected to too much sitting. Much of this has to do with the simple fact that the chairs don't allow much movement. But perhaps the most common health complaint associated with the common office or home chair is back pain. Some of this comes from the increased pressure being in a seat puts on the spine, which can translate not only to muscle tension, soreness and injury, but also to compression of and damage to the spinal discs. But pain also can result when a poorly designed chair forces an individual into awkward positions or makes it easy to slouch.
- Office chairs typically can be adjusted for elements like height and tilt of the back support. But other elements, such as the depth of the chair or the width of the armrests, generally are stuck. That means that, in most cases, if you really want an ergonomic seat, you're going to have to have everybody's chair custom fit. And that can get pricey fast--as in, thousands of dollars pricey, depending on the company you go with and the amount of customization you need. Most companies simply can't afford to do that for all their employees, even if their CEOs and managers have the heart to. So what are you left with? A bunch of standard, attack-of-the-clone-esque chairs that "sort of" fit for the average person and don't accommodate extremes of height or weight at all, and people having to prove that they have a medical reason for needing something different ("reasonable accommodation").
- A typical desk chair weighs in at around 35 pounds, but if you need something big or heavy duty, the weight of your chair can approach double that. That's tolerable if your chair has coasters. But if it doesn't? And even if your chair isn't heavy, if it has coasters, forget about stacking for storage. Arm rests, if there are any, don't always slide easily under desks, depending on the design of both the desk and the chair. It's basically a bulky, space-eating mess.
Alternatives are out there
The solution to poor-performing chairs isn't to stand all day, because that has its own problems, such as varicose veins and sore feet. But if you have to get off your hooves, there are healthier--and way more fun!--alternatives than chairs to use. These alternatives
- Allow you to stay moving and shift position often
- Can be used by multiple people with minimal risk
- Conserve space and adapt easily to different setups
1. Swings and Hammocks
Swings and hammock chairs let you spin, fidget and rock. At the same time, they contour to the body, challenge balance and allow you to choose whether you want one, both or no feet on the ground. Some companies that have installed them claim that they free workers to be more creative and relaxed. You can fold them away if desired, and a quick browse on Amazon reveals that many weigh less than 10 pounds. Typical weight limits on properly installed swings and hammocks are around 250 pounds, but some are available that can hold 300 pounds or more. And lest you think a swing is a your-office/cubicle-only deal, designers are creating carousel-like contraptions deliberately made for areas like conference rooms, too.
The Muvman is a basically an adjustable stool meant for sit-stand stations. But it has an edge on other options in that you get a 4-degree forward tilt in the spring strut and a pivoting column. The result is that you lean forward toward your desk, sit taller and keep your hips more open, all while being able to gently rock and shift.
Think of the Swopper as Muvman's cousin. It doesn't go as high, but like Tigger, it has bounce. It has what an exercise ball and ball chair lack--a combination of stability and height adjustability with true freedom of movement at the hips. You can adjust the flexibility, too, so if it's too "loose" or "springy", just tweak the settings for more control.
Buoy is a cylindrical stool inspired by the gentle movement of buoys in water. It features a curved base, which offers up to a 12-degree tilt and gives you just enough instability to shift around naturally as you sit. It's easy to tuck under a desk at the end of the day and adjusts 5.5 inches.
The above seats have their disadvantages, and just like any seating, they're not meant to be used without some breaks. They require an investment, too, although the fact just about anyone can use them potentially makes them cheaper than individual ergonomics. But they all make sitting into something active and more enjoyable, and they arguably have an non-quantifiable value that extends beyond the bottom line. Talk to your doctor to weigh the pros and cons of each option, consider your space and installation options and do what's best for your body, mind, budget and business.