Last week, a student sent me this article from the NY Times called How To Make Your Office More Ergonomically Correct. She sent it because she knows that I get really frustrated with the topic of ergonomics, and articles such as this one are why. The article does mention a few times that being in one position for hours a day five days a week is problematic. But the solutions presented ... ugh.
Humans are designed for movement. It is only in recent years that Western culture has created a daily existence that doesn't include much movement. We are now expected to sit at tables to eat, sit in cars to get to work, where we sit at desks, then sit on the commute home, sit at the dining table to eat again, and then sit in front of a television or computer until we lie down to sleep. Numerous health issues arise due to lack of movement. It's not the chairs that are the problem here; it's the lack of movement throughout the day. (And switching to a standing desk where all you do is stand still for the hours you were previously sitting at your desk still means you are not moving.)
Sedentary. That's the word for it. We have become sedentary beings. Even if you run every day for 30 minutes, how many hours of the day are you still? It's the equivalent of eating one healthy meal a day, but consuming Cheetohs and Coke continuously for all your other waking hours. It's not enough good food to counter the constant junk food, just as 30 minutes of running is not enough movement to counter all that sedentarism. Numerous studies show that getting up from your chair every half-hour and moving your whole body for one minute has enormous benefit to your overall well-being. Moving your whole body. For one minute. Every half hour. Regularly. That's the recommendation.
And yet, there is an entire field studying how to get you to sit still longer. Ergonomics is commonly defined as the refining of design of products for optimizing human use. But in practice, ergonomics is making the best of a bad situation. We need to question the larger cultural structure, not just design better chairs so we can sit longer.
If you don't want to read the entire NY Times article (it's not that long and I linked to it above), here's the most egregious example of not understanding the true effects of ergonomically designed offices:
"Very few people sit back when they work, but they should, Dr. Hedge said, because when you recline, more of your body weight is supported by your chair, rather than supported by (and also compressing) your spine. "
Designing a chair to support your spine actually creates weaker muscles over time. It doesn't reduce compression of the spine. It, in fact, increases the likelihood that you will lose the muscular strength to hold your spine upright. The point of such a chair is to get you to sit still for longer periods of time. Think about those times you watch a movie or even binge watch a few shows. The couch has been holding you up. You finally get up off the couch and every joint is stiff, your circulation is compromised (you might even have a foot that fell asleep), your muscles are tight. That is what happens in that ergonomically-designed desk chair as well. The more the chair does the work for you, the less you will choose to get up and move. The less you get up and move, the less you can get up and move.
I teach people to sit forward on a chair. Use your own muscles to hold you upright. Untuck your pelvis. Using your body to hold yourself up is why you do that core work at the gym, isn't it? In fact, sitting like this IS core work all on its own.
Feel free to disagree with me on this. I haven't cited my sources, I know. But I have been studying bodies, reading on the subject, and helping people move more and move better for decades.
A better designed chair isn't the answer.
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