What is active seating?
Unfortunately, too much time spent sitting down is a fact of modern life. On average, adults spend half their waking hours sedentary. Think about it. How much time do you spend each day sitting down? There’s the time spent commuting, at least 7-8 hours spent at your desk, meals and then any time you spend watching TV, playing video games or reading in your free time. Even if you find time to get to the gym or go for a run in between, it’s not enough to counteract all those hours spent sitting down.
There’s extensive research to suggest that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to health conditions including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and musculoskeletal problems, even if you do regular exercise. But what can you do about it? Even if you make a concerted effort to change what you do in your leisure time, you still have to go to work. So, how do you sit less?
There are two solutions. The obvious one is to stand up. There are a number of different ways to support this change: through the use of a sit-stand desk, by holding walking meetings and by choosing the stairs over the lift, for example. But, standing all day has its own problems and it’s not always practical. This brings us to option two, active sitting: if you can’t sit less, sit better.
What does an active chair do?
An active chair keeps your body moving while you sit by encouraging the same natural shifts in posture that occur when standing or walking. This is known as active sitting, or dynamic sitting, and it helps improve posture, reduces stress on the body and strengthens back and core muscles. The chairs require a more open angle between your legs and torso, which affects the alignment of your spine in relation to your pelvis and prevents you from slouching. The new position makes your legs do more work, which takes the pressure off your lumbar region and reduces strain on the discs, helping to alleviate back pain.
There are a variety of different seating options that fall under the category of "active sitting chairs".
The balance ball stool, a.k.a. Pilates stool
The simplest and most well-known of the active sitting solutions, the balance ball stool is an air-filled ball, which is sometimes integrated into a frame. The natural give of the ball means that you bounce slightly, encouraging micro-movements as you balance on the seat. This means that your body has to work to keep you upright. It also requires you to keep your feet flat on the ground for balance, which opens up the angle between your legs and torso.
The wobble stool, a.k.a. motion stool or balance stool
A wobble stool gives you a much greater range of motion while sitting than any other type of seat. It has a rounded base that allows the stool to follow your movements so you can rock in any direction. It forces your body to stay active to maintain an upright position, engaging a range of muscles whether you want to keep the stool still or stay balanced while moving. You can also perch in an almost standing position. This gives you a healthy natural posture and keeps you moving. Fidgeting has even been shown to help boost concentration!
The saddle chair
As the name suggests, you sit on a saddle chair as if you are riding a horse. You also tend to sit 20-30 cm higher than you would in a normal office chair. This position opens up the angle between your hips and knees to 135° (compared to 90° for an office chair). As a result, your spine is held in its natural curve, which reduces tension and pain in the neck, shoulders and lumbar region. Saddle stools improve core muscle strength as your body has to engage the back and abdominal muscles to support itself and you have to use your legs to stabilise yourself.
How do I get started?
Active seating is a big change. We recommend starting slowly. Try switching out your current chair for an hour or two at a time at first. As your muscles grow stronger and your spine adjusts to the change in posture, it will become easier to use your active chair for longer. If you have a sit-stand desk, the optimum solution will see you switching between standing and active sitting during your workday so that you never just sit still again!
At AJ Products we think staying fit and healthy should be something that anyone can do. We encourage office workers to get fit at their desks through our range of affordable sit-stand desks and active office furniture. That's why we've teamed up with ukactive to educate businesses on the importance of a more active workday.