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Sitting Comfortably: The Office Wellness Trend in 2020

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Sitting is the new smoking. This mantra was either coined or popularized by Dr. James Levin of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative around 2014. As we head into another year of work, this might be a good time to think about how you sit in 2020

Most workplace studies reckon that we spend between seven and nine hours sitting, which doesn’t sound good. But, for many of us, sitting at a desk in front of a screen for hours goes with the territory. So, what can employers and employees do to try and reduce the dangers of sitting for long periods of time?

Incidentally, though it’s perhaps not surprising, Levine invented the treadmill desk. On the face of it, the latest treadmill desks with things like LCD displays built in to the desktop so you can see how far you walk while you work and USB recharging ports sound great. But working while walking on a treadmill feels a bit like being a mouse on an exercise wheel. And if you stop the treadmill, all you’re doing is standing.

An obvious answer to reducing the dangers of prolonged sitting is to buy a standing desk and these have become popular. The problem is that, while standing to work might be better than sitting, it comes with its own set of health issues.

According to a 2015 study of standing desks carried out by Jack Callaghan, a professor at Canada’s University of Waterloo, 50% of people taking part who hadn’t previously suffered from low back pain developed it when they were asked to stand at a desk for two hours in a row.

Other research carried out in Canada found that the risk of heart disease was actually higher among people who spent most of their time at work standing. Standing for long periods of time can also result in back, shoulder and neck pain as well as varicose veins.

Sit-to-Stand

Buying a tall chair is one way round overcoming the potential challenges caused by working at a standing desk, which kind of defeats the object. Sit-to-stand desks are really the most logical solution.

As the name suggests, these are adjustable desks that allow you to move from sitting to standing whenever you feel the urge. Movement seems to be key to staying healthy at work. Callaghan’s research showed that we should be standing for at least 30 minutes of every hour. The American Heart Association says that movement that raises our metabolic rate above what it is when we’re sitting can have meaningful health benefits, reduce the possibility of heart disease or type two diabetes, and help keep us mentally sharp.

Apart from the health benefits that come with sit-to-stand desks, which are pneumatically, electronically or manually height adjustable, employees have the power to choose whether they sit or stand. Unlike installing a person at a desk with a treadmill, say, this bypasses the suggestion that employers are demanding employees change their work habits.

As we all know, it’s difficult if not impossible to concentrate if we’re sitting uncomfortably. Let’s start with five things to look out for in an office chair:

1.    The backrest of your chair should be long enough to support your complete spine and follow your back’s natural curve.

2.    Your chair should be adjustable, so that your feet can be flat on the floor and your knees at 90 degrees, parallel to your hips.

3.    The chair should have adjustable armrests and lower back support.

4.    A headrest may seem like an indulgence but not having one can cause back, shoulder and neck stiffness.

5.    The seat should be padded to a depth of between two and four inches to take some of the pressure off your hips.

If you really want to sit in the healthiest way possible, a saddle chair is probably the answer. Inspired by Danish surgeon A.C. Mandal’s discovery that a seat that leans forward is the best way to maintain our spine’s natural curvature, the saddle chair is said to offer the most comfortable position for people sitting for long periods of time. This is one of the reasons you’ve probably seen saddle chairs in your doctor or dentist’s surgery.

Sitting Safely

If you’re of the male persuasion, you might also like to know that, according to the medica-tradefair.com website, split saddle chairs with a seat for each buttock ease pressure on the male pudendal nerve, boosting fertility and sexual health.

This is good to know because, in my experience, split saddle chairs are not the easiest of things to perch upon.

Although your choice of chair is crucial to sitting well, there are other things you can do to sit even better. The ideal position for your arms when you’re typing or using your mouse is for them to be bent at 90 degrees. An adjustable keyboard and mouse tray attached to your desk will enable you to sit with a healthy posture.

Poor posture can also be caused by your monitor not being in the right place. It should be just below eye level, so the first line of text is in line with your eyes. A laptop or monitor stand or arms will help you bring your screen to eye level and keep your posture correct.

Ultimately, whether you’re an employer or employee, the thing to remember is that spending hours sitting in an unhealthy posture at work will have health implications that can impact back on productivity and the bottom line. Investing in well-made ergonomic furniture and understanding how it really works is always going to be a smart move for 2020.

David Holzer is a regular contributor to the Budapest Business Journal’s Socialite section, and one of the authors of The Healthy Office Revolution, available from Amazon.

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