By now, most people are aware of the dangers of prolonged periods of sitting down: sitting in a chair without getting up to move around every 30 minutes or so can have serious health implications. Sitting for too long can cause poor posture, spinal issues, joint pain, and even contribute to weight gain, insulin resistance, and varicose veins. Prolonged sitting may even increase the risk of colorectal cancers.
These concerns are among the reasons more and more people are working at standing desks, spending more time standing up on their feet when working at their computers.
So if sitting is so bad for you, why would you spend hundreds of dollars on an ergonomic chair? Read on to learn the benefits of investing in an ergonomic office chair.
What Does Ergonomic Mean?
Ergonomics is the study of people’s interactions with their work environments. Ergonomic design is intended to maximize the efficiency, comfort, and safety of the working environment, particularly as it relates to how people use the tools of the workplace.
The field of physical ergonomics studies how people move, what tasks they perform in the workplace, and how those tasks affect them physically. Ergonomic scientists look at everything from posture to repetitive movements to the setup of workstations to safety and other environmental conditions in the workplace.
The general public probably became aware of ergonomics as more and more people spent their workdays typing on computer keyboards. The repetitive motion of typing caused some to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, where the median nerve in the wrist gets compressed.
Responses to carpal tunnel included wrist supports for mouse pads and redesigned keyboards to reposition the hands to relieve stress on the wrist.
But workers who were seated for much of the day, typing on computer keyboards, also experienced neck and back pain, eye strain, and other joint pain. Much of this was associated with the type of chairs they were sitting in and how the chairs failed to encourage good positioning at the workstation.
Despite Standing Desks, Workers Still Spend Time Sitting
Although standing desks have become popular, people need a break from standing, too. The benefits of investing in an ergonomic office chair come into play for the section of the day you’re sitting at your desk.
Ergonomic chairs are designed with as many as eight points of adjustment to accommodate people of different heights and weights and help them achieve the optimal seated position. This, in turn, helps them to preserve good posture, reduces strain on the spine and joints, and limits eye strain when looking at a computer screen.
Ergonomic chairs adjust so that almost anyone sitting in them can place their feet on the floor with their knees bent at a right angle. They can also bend their arms at the elbow at a right angle, keeping their forearms parallel to the floor. The chairs provide support to the lower and upper back, and some come with head and neck supports as well.
Ergonomic Chairs Reduce Pain and Increase Productivity
Employees who experience joint pain or discomfort and stress on the spine, shoulders, and neck from slouching in their chairs are less productive. Poor posture and an ill-fitting chair can combine to create discomfort and pain, which discourages physical activity. People who are less active may experience higher levels of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular issues, stress, anxiety, or even depression.
Ergonomic chairs help users maintain good posture while sitting, which reduces the incidence of joint pain and muscle stiffness (from lack of movement). Employees who feel better physically at work are more productive and happier.
Choosing an Ergonomic Chair
If you’ve decided to avail yourself of the benefits of investing in an ergonomic office chair, there are several features you should look for in any chair you’re considering:
- Adjustability: At a minimum, an ergonomic chair should have a seat and backrest that are adjustable in both height and angle. They should also have adjustable lumbar support and adjustable armrests.
- Cushioning: Ergonomic chairs should be made of breathable materials that also provide enough cushioning to make sitting for an extended period comfortable.
- Seat dimensions: The seat of your ergonomic chair should be about an inch wider than your hips and allow about two to four inches of open space between the backs of your knees and the seat.
- Hip support: When you recline in the chair, it should transfer weight from your hips to the backrest of the chair. When sitting up straight, the chair’s lumbar support and seat should fit you so you don’t have to shove yourself back in the chair, but rather the lumbar support accommodates the natural curve of your lower back, relieving some of the pressure on your hips.
- A stable base: A five-point base is more stable than most other designs. It would be a shame to gain all the benefits of an expensive ergonomic chair only to discover it tips over too easily.
Ergonomic chairs add aesthetic appeal to your office environment. Many display the best design elements of contemporary office chairs, including choices of colors and materials. The chairs may be fabric and wood or metal and mesh. The forms they take are reminiscent of modern design, with clean lines and functionality foremost in the design.
When you’re considering purchasing a new office chair, consider how much of your day you spend sitting down. You may want to pair your choice of chair with an adjustable standing desk so you can raise your work surface to the right level when you stand up and lower it again when you sit back down.
Think about how your chair will complement the rest of your office environment. Try to select a chair that will complement the style of your office. It’s OK to mix furniture from contrasting design traditions and periods, as long as you work to pull the elements together with color, texture, and scale.
Combining a standing desk for when you take a break from sitting with an ergonomic chair to treat your body to good posture and support when you sit back down will make for a healthier, happier workspace.