Is the office chair a hero or villain when it comes to healthy working?
Sitting has had a lot of bad press in recent months - and it’s not surprising. Studies show that prolonged sitting can dramatically increase your likelihood of developing a wealth of diseases, including diabetes, some cancers, and cardiovascular disease.
But if our office chairs are really killing us as so many headlines claim, should we try to avoid them altogether?
Our lead ergonomic consultant Katharine Metters says: “The simple answer is no. Sitting is a posture that provides good support to the body, so it should be considered as a suitable position for various working and leisure activities. The trick is to adjust to a good sitting posture, and to alternate between sitting and periods of standing or walking.”
There isn’t just one single ‘good posture’. Changing your posture regularly will help to stimulate the blood-flow to your muscles, sharing the load between different tissues and preventing you from feeling achy and sluggish.
A recent study by RH Seating and the Nobel Prize-winning Karolinska Institutet in Sweden found that there really are positive health benefits to ‘active sitting’.
What is ‘active sitting’?
You’ve probably heard of active working: using office design, policy and equipment to encourage physical activity — but what’s active sitting?
Active sitting is when seating encourages the occupant to make small, regular adjustments to their posture. The idea is that flexibility and movement is beneficial to the human body when undertaking ‘sedentary’ activities, such as desk and computer work.
Some of the world’s top chair companies - including RH Chairs, have developed seats that encourage active sitting. That is, chairs that can tilt and move with the user to boost oxygen and blood-flow through the body.
Can active sitting really improve our health?
The RH Seating and Karolinska Institutet study put HÅG chairs, optimised for active sitting, under a series of tests to see whether they really can improve the health of their sitters.
Fifteen healthy office workers with long-term experience of using office chairs at their desks were chosen as participants. Various in-depth tests were carried out as they used HÅG chairs with the tilting mechanism on, compared to with it off. The HÅG chairs have been designed with a seat and back that tilt together, so that when you lean back or forward the whole thing tilts with you, stimulating movement in your ankles.
The researchers used a 3D-motion capture system, force platforms and high frequency digital video cameras to analyse movement, while sensors were attached to body parts and the chairs to monitor activity levels.
The results showed that when participants used the tilting mechanism during ‘dynamic seated office tasks’, 73% increased from sedentary to light physical activity levels. That’s compared to only a 33% increase experienced by those not using the tilt mechanism.
Reporting on the study, RH Chairs said: “Office sapiens are an endangered species, broken by our own wealth and modern lifestyle. We’re about to sit ourselves to death.”
Posturite’s CEO Ian Fletcher-Price was keen to remind us that studies can be one-sided. He said: “The seat manufacturers advocate sitting, the sit-stand desk manufacturers advocate standing.
“There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there and it’s important not to blow these small studies out of proportion.”
“We know the healthiest way of working in an office is to move regularly between sitting, standing and moving about. We’re not saying abandon your chairs. Just make sure you choose the right one.”
Choosing the right chair
First off, it is important that all office chairs meet DSE regulations but, having achieved that, there are a few other factors to consider, including:
- It must fit the person using it.
- It must be adjustable to support good postures.
- It must encourage movement so as the person moves to do their work, the chair moves with them.
For more help with choosing the right office chair, you can download our capability statement.
We’re currently running an offer on our HÅG H04 and H05 models for anyone needing to buy 10 or more chairs. To find out more about this, please download the flyer.
Or request a callback with one of our seating experts to discuss your requirements: