The notion that sitting for long periods of time wears your body down seems to preach two polar opposite ideas.
Similarly, so does the term “active sitting”.
We are going to describe what active sitting means and how it benefits those working full-time in an office setting that requires prolonged sitting at a desk.
What is Active Sitting?
Research shows that employees can exercise all they want outside of work hours to so-call combat the long work day. Despite the dedication, an 8-hour sedentary work day still damages the body over time.
Examples include: core and abdominal weakness, back pain, spinal deformities (i.e. hunched posture) spinal disc degeneration, neck pain, pinched nerves, reduced blood circulation, and the list goes on.
Active sitting, also known as dynamic sitting, refers to actively engaging at least some of your muscles while sitting in a chair whether that be back, abdominal, or leg muscles.
Treadmills, bouncy ball chairs, and standing desks foster great movement strategies but some office-related tasks require sitting.
Instead of remaining motionless for an 8-hour period, active sitting allows a person to make very minor changes to their sitting patterns in order to keep muscle groups active.
Let’s talk about benefits that come with using office chairs that promote active sitting.
Note that some benefits can only be gained by chair users who proactively participate in the movement that each chair allows for:
Increase core strength
Chairs that assist the user with active sitting provide core strengthening opportunity. In other words, the user is working lower and upper abdominal muscles, the back and shoulder muscles, and the lateral muscles that cross over the rib cage and down towards the hips.
If an office worker is sitting in a traditional chair, he or she would have to pull their backs away from the chair and sit upright without back support in order to work core muscles. We’ll describe later what this would instead look like in alternative chairs.
Encourages constant moving
As opposed to prolonged inactivity, chairs that encourage active sitting directly encourage constant motion. It’s not like you will be physically running laps at your desk.
Instead, think about active sitting constantly activating muscles, which for stabilizing posture doesn’t look like much movement at all.
Our bodies were not designed for several hours of sitting, rather our muscles and joints were made for motion
The immediate benefit of core strengthening is overall better posture. While sitting in a standard chair, our bodies get fatigued so we naturally slide down causing our spine to form a c-shape.
A c-shape forces our hips backwards and our shoulders and neck forwards which can cause pain, additional weakness and fatigue, joint stiffness, and nerve impingement.
Don’t blow this out of proportion. Active sitting does not replace the calories burned during regular exercise. However, active sitting still burns a few calories that an employee would not by sitting still all day.
Burning a small number of calories also tells the body that the metabolism is still at work, which means energy is being produced for the body as well as the brain.
Less prone to back pain
With the combination of improved posture and core strengthening, active sitting makes the user less prone to back pain that’s associated with prolonged sitting.
Improved circulation and concentration
Active sitting promotes consistent muscle contraction, which forces blood through muscle tissue and throughout the rest of the body.
This means that oxygenated blood cells are pumped throughout the body, rejuvenating the body and the mind.
A study conducted in Sweden evaluated the benefits of an active centered tilt mechanism in a chair as compared to an inactive mechanism for office workers. In other words, a dynamic sitting chair versus a standard chair.
Results revealed that participants who used the dynamic sitting chair performed an equivalent of “light physical activity” while sitting (Grooten, 2014).
Merritt and Merritt (2007) examined the typical gym ball being used as a chair for relieving lower back pain.
Results showed that, although much controversy and lack of research revolves around using the gym ball in fitness and rehabilitation setting, a gym ball has great potential for creating movement enough to reduce back pain in a prolonged sitting position.
Ward (2016) discusses how dynamic sitting chairs like bouncy ball chairs help young children with active learning.
Children who struggle with focusing while sitting in regular chairs show increased attention for school tasks while sitting in chairs that get them moving. Imagine the implications for adults and attention in the office environment!
Active Seating Options
Today’s market offers a wide variety of seating options that encourage active sitting:
Kneeling chairs tilt the user slightly forward, which is why there is typically no back support for the seat. The unsupported tilt helps the sitter use core muscles without even really having to think about it.
The knees are placed on a cushion while the feet are tucked under the chair on another pad, which keeps the hip and knee angles open for increased circulation.
Leaning stools have no back support and provide a mechanism for the user to safely lean themselves forward towards their desk.
This works core muscles that lead to good posture. However, users still need to do their part in order to reap the benefits.
Balance balls also take away the back support, allowing for upright posture and core strengthening.
Additionally, users can add a little bounce or shift to their sitting which challenges their balance and provides some workout in the hips and legs.
A perching stool positions someone halfway between sitting and standing. In order to maintain a solid perch position, you naturally have to engage core, back, leg, and hip muscles.
Wobble chairs are situated on a half sphere, which rocks the user back and forth. That means while sitting, the user has to actively use leg, hip, and core muscles in order to sit upright at their desk.
The saddle chair is exactly what it sounds like, in which you sit as if you are saddling a horse.
The knees drop down opening the hip and knee angles which promotes circulation. Some saddle chairs are height adjustable so as to allow a perching stance as well.
Active Sitting Exercises
Again, it can be overstated the importance of doing your part while sitting at work.
Keep yourself moving and active by trying the following:
Seated exercises: Move those legs, hips, and abdominal muscles while seated in your chair. Examples include lifting each foot off of the ground and tracing out the alphabet, “butt crunches” where you repeatedly squeeze your glutes together, lifting your knees up one at a time towards your chest and holding in position, etc.
Stretches: Purposefully stretch all of your joints, whether in sitting or in standing. Pay particular attention to the joints that ache the most after a long day of sitting.
Repositioning: Consciously check your position every few minutes and readjust your sitting posture to prevent unnecessary joint pain.
Sitting breaks: Get up and walk around every 15 minutes or so to further increase the circulation throughout your body.
Active sitting at work is not a drastic change to your routine. Just small modifications to your seating arrangement at your desk can transform your health for the better, for now and for the future.