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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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October 06 2009

You Might Want to Sit Down for This

By Mark Sisson
101 Comments

Or maybe you don’t. It turns out that sitting in a chair – that time honored tradition we commonly associate with rest, relaxation, and recuperation (don’t forget mind-numbing work, too!) – is actually bad for us. At least, the way we approach sitting is health harmful. The occasional dalliance with a straight-backed office chair probably isn’t a problem, but when we spend most of our waking life sitting (or, even worse, slumping over) in a chair, we invite disaster. Such sedentarism is a real problem, and a recent one. Grok certainly wasn’t bound to a desk. He may have had more off time than we do (if modern hunter-gatherers are any indication), but he didn’t spend it subjecting his body to extended bouts of unnatural contortions. And there’s the other big difference: the way we sit is completely unnatural. Instead of sprawling out, hands behind our heads, legs outstretched, we moderns “relax” in a chair – a piece of furniture with which we have relatively new relations.

From “You Don’t Know Squat” we already know that the modern toilet has only been in widespread use for a couple centuries, and that squatting to eliminate is probably healthier than the sit/strain method, but did you know that chairs with backs enjoy a similar history? Until the 16th century, chairs were reserved primarily for the gilded classes. Kings, noblemen, and statesmen used them to conduct business and hold court, while your average serf or peon was relegated to sitting on (backless) stools, chests, or even the ground. Early chairs were ornate, exquisite things made from expensive materials like ivory, ebony, bronze, and acacia wood, and festooned with beautiful carvings and designs; there weren’t any latter-day Ikea-equivalents pumping out mock kings’ thrones made of particle board. Handcrafted works of art versus utilitarian products mass-produced in China. It almost sounds like chairs are the refined grains of the furniture world.

Or, perhaps more fittingly, chairs are like shoes. They are modern “conveniences” that force our anatomy into unnatural positions while purporting to correct flaws intrinsic to our bodies. It’s not enough to say that we’re merely imperfect (because we are); we also possess a fatal flaw that only manmade artifice can fix. But what chairs actually do is make sitting in a harmful, slumped-over position for a dangerously long period of time possible. We bypass our built-in feedback system (you know – pain, fatigue, a sore back) that would usually direct us to correct our posture (or even, maybe, stand up and move around) and we’re able to sit relatively pain-free for hours on end – but the damage is being done. We’re getting progressively weaker and more reliant on the backing of the chair, and when we’re in a sitting situation without added back support, we can’t handle it. Instead of sitting erect, shoulders back, back strong and straight, head held high, we just slump over and use the curvature of our spine to support our bodies. If you don’t believe me, start watching for it. Look around at your colleagues, family, and friends, and see how they sit. Most people slump. Can you imagine the average modern twelve year old, weaned on couches and cheap school seating, slumping over in the saddle as he tries to ride down game on his first hunting trip with the warriors of the tribe? It simply wouldn’t work.

A weak back, one might argue, can be mitigated by proper exercises. Deadlifts and squats (performed correctly and with great form, of course) will strengthen your “core” and could even make up for all the sitting (personally, I wouldn’t risk it – and it seems kinda counterproductive, like eating a bunch of fish oil just so you can “safely” consume tons of Omega 6s), but are there any other health disadvantages to leading a sedentary, chair-ridden lifestyle? Of course there are.

There’s the obesity that accompanies sloth. Time spent sitting is invariably time spent not moving. While there is the occasional IT guy who bikes to work, hits the gym on his lunch break, and gets plenty of exercise when he’s not sitting in front of a computer, one Australian study (PDF) concluded that office workers “who spend high amounts of time sitting at work tend to spend high amounts of time sitting on non work days.” In other words, it may be that sedentary employees really do take their work home with them. That same study also found that those same workers had a flawed perception of their own activity levels. The most sedentary ones thought they were getting way more exercise than they actually were. As many of you probably know, a false sense of progress can be highly detrimental to one’s actual progress.

How do you feel about blood clots in your legs? A New Zealand (boy, they’re really on top of things in that part of the world, huh?) study found that workers who spent an inordinate amount of time sitting at their desks were at a higher risk of developing deep vein thombrosis (DVT). Workers who used computers while sitting were at an even high risk.

Metabolic syndrome, our favorite catchall for most of what ails the average insulin-resistant, obese, and near-diabetic, may also be exacerbated by “too little exercise and too much sitting.” Epidemiological data suggesting that “excessive sitting” is a health hazard prompted researchers to suggest amending current health guidelines, while one scientist even compared the deleterious impact of sitting to smoking regularly. When doctors compare anything to smoking, you know they mean business (of course, that same doctor’d probably include saturated fat among the condemned, but no one’s perfect).

If all that isn’t enough to convince you, perhaps a healthy dose of all cause mortality will. The study, conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine, examined whether time spent sitting was an independent indicator of all cause mortality. They factored in leisure time, alcohol and tobacco consumption, and even physical activity (the lack thereof which is a common explanation of the poor health ramifications of too much sitting), but sitting time emerged as a factor – “independent of leisure time physical activity.” Physical activity certainly helps reduce mortality rates, but it might not be enough, and the downsides of sitting can’t completely be explained away by a reduction in exercise.

So, what can we do about it? In a world of cheap and plentiful chairs, where social protocol and workplace decorum usually demand we plop down for hours at a time, how can the dedicated Primal Blueprinter maintain postural health and strength and avoid the pitfalls of too much sitting?

Ideally, we would avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time – or at all. That’s not very realistic, of course, for obvious reasons. We aren’t all Ernest Hemingway, who famously said, “writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up.” (Hemingway’s method of standing to type is actually really nice if you can manage it; my editor, Aaron, has been doing so the past few weeks after injuring his back, and he may never go back to chairs if he can help it.) If your boss is the type to let you nap and wear Vibrams to work, you might be able to work the “no-chair” angle, but I wouldn’t count on it.

If standing isn’t an option, trying using a stool to sit. Humans used stools (also chests, or anything backless) for centuries before chairs became common, so we can definitely manage without the support. The advantage of the stool is that you aren’t tempted to use the backing; in fact, you’re almost forced to maintain a straight, strong back by virtue of the backing’s absence. Sit up straight and tall. You’ll probably have to consciously maintain the arch in your back (like you’re deadlifting) at first, but in time your muscles will strengthen and you’ll grow accustomed to the position. Oh, if you don’t mind looking ridiculous, I suppose you could use a big yoga/balance ball as a seat.

Constantly punctuating your day with bouts of activity is a decent way to reduce the damage. Eight hours of sitting broken up into digestible chunks and interspersed with random walks and stretches every fifteen minutes is always going to be better than eight hours of uninterrupted sitting. You could take a walk for your lunch break, or even find time to hit the gym. Just get up, get moving, and get your blood flowing, and do it as often as you can (while still getting your work done, of course).

This may belong strictly in the “flights of fancy” category, but a treadmill desk would certainly help you avoid sitting. Plus, you could switch it off and simply stand and work if you ever got tired of walking.

If you absolutely can’t leave your chair for the entire day, you’ll need to put more emphasis on getting regular exercise outside of work. Eating Primally should be helping you avoid sugar crashes and carb comas, so mustering enough energy for a session shouldn’t be a problem. The reason we formally “workout” is because our lives are so structured; Grok didn’t decide to exercise. His life just naturally required it. In a way, both you and Grok need to exercise to survive – only for slightly different reasons.

To sum things up, staying on your feet or lounging instead of sitting in a chair are the most desirable ways to deal with the chair problem. Modern conveniences, though, have basically become modern requirements, and we’re going to have to deal with sitting in chairs from time to time. When you are forced into sitting, maintain a strong torso. Keep your shoulders back, your chest up, and your lower back tight and slightly arched. Get up every fifteen minutes or so for a brisk walk. Explore alternative seating arrangements, like yoga balls or backless stools that force you to exercise proper postural positioning. Think of the chair as a crutch – use when needed, but don’t rely on it too much or you’ll never be able to graduate.

Above all, don’t get hung up on the fact that you sit in a chair everyday. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s not going to kill you as long as you take the necessary steps to minimize the negative impact of sitting.

And now for some questions: How many hours a day do you spend sitting in a chair? What type of chair do you use? How would you rate your posture? Has anyone successfully negotiated a standing working environment at their office job? If so, share your experience. Let me know your thoughts in the comment board. Thanks, everyone!

TAGS:  mobility

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101 thoughts on “You Might Want to Sit Down for This”

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  1. Hey Mark, great post!

    I just wanted to ask if arching your back inwards is really the best way to sit. Obviousley there are ill effects from arching your back outwards, but can you see negatives of having your back arched inwards for a lengthy period of time?

    Many thanks from Engalnd!

    -Kane

  2. I’m bound to a desk for much of the day, but alternate between sitting, standing, and even squatting. I do get some funny looks if someone comes into my office while I’m squatted behind my desk working. I just tell them that I get tired of sitting.

  3. Ever since I moved back home from college, I’ve been using a drum throne as my desk instead of a chair (small living spaces and all…) and find it preferable. I’ve even been drafting in my head plans to build my own computer/recording desk to use standing.

    I think if we did most of our computer work standing, we might be more productive. We wouldn’t be wasting our valuable free time doing nothing. The comforts of sitting in a nice chair (semi-recumbant, no need to use most muscles, la-z-boy style) certainly doesn’t encourage us to get up! haha

  4. With a 3 year old to chase I barely ever sit. But, before that I was an office bound person who sat most of the say. I hated it!

    I begged for a standing work station and know a few people who negotiated one using the key words “ergonomics”, “safety” “OSHA” and addressed their workplace safety officer.

    Even though I am now home all day being mom, I feel so lucky because it frees me to just stand or walk around at will. Nice!

    I sit for meals, though, using a stool.

  5. What timing – I just swapped out my office chair for a stability ball this morning. Bouncy bouncy!

  6. Thirty years of a computer job have left me with chronic neck pain. I’ve been in physio for over a year, working on postural exercises. The biggest problem is avoiding a chin-forward posture. It is important to keep the head above the spine. I see a lot of coworkers fall into this bad habit.

    Half the time I sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair. This keeps the position dynamic, and makes it difficult to slouch, and almost impossible to cross your legs (a very bad habit as well).

  7. I am at a desk job as well. I notice that as I become more active outside of work the less time I am able to sit at my desk at a time.

    If I am active outside of work I find that I get a closed in feeling and I need to get up from my desk just to keep my sanity.

    The opposite is true. The less active I am the longer I can sit without the need to get up and around.

    1. I agree totally with that.. I work 12 hr shifts at a hospital watching heart monitors so I can not leave my desk unless someone can cover my position for me. So if I’m lazy outside of work I can sit for long periods of time but since i have begun to get more active outside of work I have to get up and stand for a few minutes every once in a while. They also don’t look kindly on the exercise ball idea and we can’t modify to standing desks, so I’ve gotten to where I will stand at least, if not more than 10 minutes an hour which helps a little.

    2. I’m a teacher and I’ve noticed there are some students who just cannot sit down, sit still, stay sitting! Interestingly, one of them is a big footballer… So that really fits in with the idea that now activity breeds more activity! I’d bet the other boy is the same! How did we get here?!

  8. We’re moving to a new office and I’m seriously considering a standing workstation for at least part of the day. I’ll have to look into that. My dad had back problems for years and finally went to a standing desk with a bar stool for when he needed a rest. It worked wonders.

    A great exercise I use in my warmup routines to counter the hunchback posture is the scapular wall slide. Eric Cressey has been a great influence on me to be conscious of posture and its effects on health and performance:
    http://ericcressey.com/exercise-of-the-week-scapular-wall-slides

    Great blog by the way! Thoughtful and well-researched…

  9. What I do, and it works well: I sit on the middle part of the chair, without my back touching the back part of the chair. So it is like I am sitting on a stool!

    1. I do something similar. I sit at the edge of the chair with my legs stretched out in front of me (I guess this only works because I’m not very tall) but the position ends up being something similar to leaning against a short. It’s comfortable for me.

  10. Since you mention “squatting to eliminate”, I’d like to say that I haven’t *sat* on a toilet for years; I use something called Nature’s Platform that allows for “eliminating” the way nature intended. You can check it out at naturesplatform.com. It’s great, and I’d never go back to sitting on the toilet. An additional benefit I get from using the Nature’s Platform, is that it keeps me limber and flexible in the hips. At 66 years of age, I can drop into a full squat (butt to heels) anytime, and find it comfortable to do so. In fact, squatting like that for brief periods throughout the day is an excellent way to help counter the negative effects of sitting in chairs. I learned that from the book “3 Minutes to a Pain-Free Life” by Joseph Weisberg.

  11. I’m a webdesigner, so I sit about 8 hours a day, just for work. 🙁 I do take breaks, though, and stretch/walk/etc. (Four mornings a week I CrossFit, btw)

    Last year I injured my back/hamstring, and couldn’t sit for about four months without extreme pain. I put crates on my desk and elevated my computer, creating a standing desk.

    In some ways, it was great; I didn’t waste time, that’s for sure! No more goofing off, web browsing for fun – I did only what I had to, and then I was off (usually to go lie down and rest/stretch).

    Unfortunately, it also meant I was standing in one place for hours… my feet killed, and I even lost feeling in my left heel (it was my right leg I injured) for months, even after I was sitting down again.

    Best of all worlds, I think—if you have to be at a desk for work—would be one of those desks that you can move up and down, so you could go back and forth. (Something like this: http://www.thehumansolution.com/wosiadhecode.html ; too bad those are $2000…)

    1. I recently lightly tweaked my back (mostly cranky muscles from trying to do max deadlifts too soon after a back killing crossfit workout). I found all sorts of sitting to be terrible. If I sat in my car or a straight backed chair for more than about 5 minutes getting back up was painful and I’d be unable to stand straight for a minute or so. The one place I was ok though was where I sit all day – my office. I tried all sorts of chairs in years past but for the last eight years have just been sitting on a ball. It forces correct posture and lets me move around on it ever so slightly. Not nearly as good for my back as stretching or exercise but certainly didn’t seem to be the huge negative of a normal chair.

  12. I’ve used stability balls as desk chairs at home and at work for over a year now.

    I also fidget a lot, which serves to counteract our glacial conference rooms.

  13. I have a desk job and I sit 9-10 hours a day on a chair. I know my posture is not right, but this post and the above comments are spurring me to do something about it. I like the idea of using a stability ball, but I need to find a really big one (I’m 5’0) to make sure my hands are at desk-level.

  14. I hate chairs. I will opt for the floor every time! When I do have to sit, I find crossing my legs (indian style) is the most comfortable. My back is forced straight and my legs aren’t dangling or held in a weird un natural position!

    When resting (I’m a tandem nursing mama, so immobility is often an issue) we prefer to lay down, so we have a couch that we leave folded flat all the time, with plenty of pillows! Might look funny, but very comfy. I have a feeling that Grok’s mate would have done a lot of laying and squatting and sitting with her nurslings, when not chasing them around! lol

  15. I’m an IT Developer and I’m sitting at my desk as I read this article. 🙁

    I walk to work. Take a small walk with the cohorts in the morning. Walk back home for lunch. Walk back to work after lunch. 15-30 minute walk in the afternoon, and then a walk back home. Plus walking to the water cooler ALL the time and to the printer when necessary. Workout at least 3 times a day. I might have been known to do a round of ladder pushups in my cubicle now and then too 😛

    About two years ago we decided to go without a car and that was the best decision ever. We’re one of those families that you see walking/biking everywhere we need to go. Unfortunately there aren’t enough of those families around. People around here only seem to walk when it’s nice out, and it’s such a small town that you really don’t need to have a vehicle to meet all your daily needs.

    I’ll now be looking for a stool that I can utilize at work.

  16. I’ve been lucky that over the past decade or so I’ve been able to intersperse active jobs (retail, carpentry, on-site computer work so I was mobile) with bouts of “chained to the desk” computer jobs. At my last job of the latter sort, I was lucky to have a wireless headset so on longer support calls I could pace up and down the aisle, this tended to irk the guys in the next workspace…but then again I was on the phone so I couldn’t hear them!
    Now I’m undergoing a complete life makeover, my mornings are spent in language lessons and afternoons are spent wandering my new home, so I’m getting outside daily, walking everywhere, learning new things daily, and overall loving the changes that just keep coming!

  17. if grains are a NO, NO, what about their sprouts? Are sprouts a green? I eat sprouted bread. Grain or green> There is no flour in it.

    Many thanks,

    Sheldon Stoff

  18. Great point and definitely true. When I started work out of college I noticed the biggest change for me was having to sit down and still for such long periods during the day. Add on a 45 min commute and suddenly you’ve got a tremendous obstacle to basic fitness and wellness in my life which I’ve battled since.

  19. I find that bringing a 55cm (or 65cm) stability ball in to work is the best option for me. It means I sit up straight, I can bounce, around on it to keep blow flowing, I can roll around on it to stretch out, and I can even do some light exercises from time to time.

    I also bike to and from work and exercise before going to work in the morning.

  20. So what about meals?

    Should we eat standing up or should we sprawl out on the floor, legs outstretched, for our meals?

    We’ve been told that we shouldn’t eat standing up but I’ve never heard anything against eating sprawled out on the floor. It is more primal after all.

    But I’d be crowded out by my dogs. Not sure that’d make eating much fun.

    If sitting is a problem, then eating meals is also a problem …..

    1. Maybe the Romans had it right with their couches that allowed them to recline while eating…

      My classes last 3-5 hours straight, but I try to stand up when I get the chance. When I’m doing art at my studio, I alternate between standing and sitting. My laptop lets me sprawl out on my back when I’m on the computer. Thankfully my job requires me to be on my feet at all times.

  21. Great article!

    This is very much the philosophy or ergonomic pioneer Peter Opsvik. Check out his interview on the Varier website http://www.varierusa.com Alot of these same themes are expressed there !

    Varier’s entire collection of chairs, called “Human Instruments” are based on Movement while sitting, and Opsvik also concurs that sitting is not best….refreshing candor from a designer of chairs.

  22. I am a classical musician, so I spend plenty of time sitting in rehearsals, and obviously standing is not an option! Fortunately, bad posture is not an option, either. I sit right on the edge of the chair so my legs aren’t even touching the bottom. Otherwise, I feel like my legs get in the way!

    1. Rafi, it’s a start. In other words it will “reduce” the damage, but I know when I have tried it, I squirm too much and the towel or pillow winds up in the wrong place. Better to train the arch without support (kinda like going barefoot rather than wearing arch supports) as long as you maintain posture. OTOH, I do get up and move a LOT all day long.

  23. Being a doctor of chiropractic, and thus from all the research and studies, sitting is one of the major causes of the infamous lumbar disc bulge. 33% of the population will have an asymptomatic disc bulge in their lumbar spines, and it has been linked to too much sitting. The best chairs that I recommend to patients as they get better are straight backed flat bench chairs, none of that fancy stuff. Those supposedly awesome lumbar chairs and swiss balls? They are even worst, putting undue pressure on the sacrum and coccyx, which is where most of the trouble comes from, not the curve (curve changes are only a symptom). Tip: try sitting on a 2″ folded up towel at the back part of the chair, creating a slightly downward angulating effect if you can’t get a flat chair, it helps tremendously, especially on long travels. And see a doctor of chiropractic of course 🙂

    1. Sources? And I would counterargue that going to a chiropractor is a waste of time and money.

      The main danger of chiropractic is that most chiropractors are not trained in proper diagnosis and may delay referring you to a real doctor, even for life-threatening conditions.

      Another danger is that chiropractors have a pseudoscientific belief system and often recommend dangerous, expensive, or bizarre treatments that are completely worthless.

      n reality, you are just cracking the joints of a patient’s back and your treatment can have no effect on health (other than maybe easing some minor back pain). There is no evidence that getting joints cracked regularly is good — it just costs the patient extra money and may even cause ligament laxity.

      Many modern chiros will tell you that they don’t treat subluxations and that they are evidence based. Don’t fall for this one. If chiropractic was truly “evidence based”, it wouldn’t even need to exist as a profession since physical therapists and physicians can crack joints for back pain.

      Some chiropractors claim they can help all kinds of things which they have no business treating. Some claim they can treat diabetes, ADD, hormone problems, depression, even cancer… just by cracking someone’s joints.

      1. Ohh, touched a nerve here – pardon the chiro pun.

        I dont “treat diabetes, ADD, hormone problems, depression, even cancer…”, I merely know the connection between a properly functioning spine and nervous system and the metabolic processes that underlie these disorders.

        “Another danger is that chiropractors have a pseudoscientific belief system and often recommend dangerous, expensive, or bizarre treatments that are completely worthless.” Anytime western medicine wants to compare body counts or costs of care, Im up for it.

        “If chiropractic was truly “evidence based”, it wouldn’t even need to exist as a profession since physical therapists and physicians can crack joints for back pain.” I dont crack backs for pain relief. There is lots of evidence that chiropractic can restore joint function, decrease cortisol and improve quality of life.

        1. Here’s the thing I don’t get – why are people so down on chiropractors? If someone’s telling me chiropractics is going to cure cancer, yeah, I’m going to be a little skeptical, but my chiropractor is the main reason I can even WALK these days. About seven years ago my pelvis slipped out in a big way. Hurt to stand, lie down, twist, walk… just rolling over was a HUGE effort. After months of my regular doctor (who was a very good doc in all other respects) telling me that they’d just have to put me on serious pain medication (which I steadfastly refused right up until the end) I was at my wit’s end. I ended up TAKING the pain medication and learned the hard way that I’m violently allergic to codeine. I had to be hospitalized for it.

          While I was there my boyfriend caught a ride with his boss and his boss’s brother to the hospital. Turns out the brother was a chiropractor. He listened to my problem in the car and offered to look at me as soon as I was out of the hospital. I was discharged the next day, my bf drove me to the brother’s office, and ten minutes later I could walk again… pain free.

          Even today my pelvis slips out of place every couple of weeks when I work especially hard or lift something especially heavy. I’m working on developing a primal plan but I have to take it slow since I’m pregnant. With all the relaxin in my system my chiropractor has been invaluable to keeping me functioning.

          Very VERY long story short – chiropractors might not be able to cure cancer but they’re very good at what they do. So try not to knock ’em, please. I’d probably be hopped up on painkillers right now otherwise.

        2. Effectiveness of Chiropractic Treatment
          Opinions differ as to the efficacy of chiropractic treatment. Many controlled clinical studies of spinal manipulation are available, but their results disagree and they are typically of low quality. Health claims made by chiropractors about using manipulation for pediatric health conditions are supported by only low levels of scientific evidence that do not demonstrate clinically relevant benefits. A 2008 critical review found that with the possible exception of back pain, chiropractic SM (spinal manipulation) has not been shown to be effective for any medical condition, and suggested that many guidelines recommend chiropractic care for low back pain because no therapy has been shown to make a real difference.

          Btw, there is a wide range of ways to measure treatment outcomes. Chiropractic care, like all medical treatment, benefits from the placebo response.

          It is hard to construct a trustworthy placebo for clinical trials of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), as experts often disagree about whether a proposed placebo actually has no effect. The efficacy of maintenance care in chiropractic is STILL unknown.

    2. Sorry, but your research is in the wrong places. Sitting on a quality, not cheap, ball is one of the most simple and effective things that a human can do – it is far more natural than sitting on a static spinal dehydrating piece of junk as you suggested.Yes, you may get their back straight, but so can i if you tie me to a post – but this has nothing to do with spinal health.

    3. Worst thing I ever did was get one of those ball chairs. At first it was just ok but eventually caused a lot of low back pain for me. A friend of mine who had no low back pain or any postural issues (he sat upright, did not cross legs) developed very bad back pain and a sudden scoliosis causing muscle spasms. I’ve since read that the ball chairs are not recommended by many (too much spinal pressure) and I can confirm through my own exp and a friends that they are terrible.

  24. As someone who spends a major amount of time sitting every day, I just wanted to say thanks for the helpful article. Posture is truly an essential element of good health.

  25. Gaiam has a stability ball chair that I use at work–I need to get one for home, too.–it feels like the best of both worlds.

  26. I used to use an Aeron chair, but I’d always end up slouching in it. So, I replaced it with a Swopper stool, and I love it because it forces me to sit upright with good posture.

  27. I ended up going with an adjustable-height desk (GeekDesk), which lets me stand part of the day, kneel in a kneeling chair, and sit on a stool as needed. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a regular desk if I can help it.

    Great article! Nice to see some solid factual support for what my intuition and my body have been telling for years. Thanks for writing & posting it.

  28. ” The relatively recent innovation known as the Division of Labor is not so remote that our genetic composition has had time to adapt again. Since most of us now are freed from the necessity of personally obtaining our subsistence, physical activity is regarded as optional. Indeed it is, from the standpoint of immediate necessity, but the reality of millions of years of adaptation to a ruggedly physical existence will not go away just because desks were invented.”

    -Mark Rippetoe, strength coach

  29. I am a chiropractor, and I have a rule that I give to all my patients – the 20/20 rule. For every 20 minutes you sit, stand up for 20 seconds and do some type of stretch. This alone will give your body more movement, and help minimize that forward head posture that everyone develops when sitting down for long periods. (Posture is an unconscious process, correcting it is conscious, so if you dont do it right, as soon as you are not paying attention, you will start slumping again.

    Also, in a shameless product plug, I have also developed a series of postural exercises and recomendadtion on how to deal with neck stiffness and pain from sitting at a desk, which you can find if you click my name.

    1. This chair was actually designed by a former teacher of mine (the Ekman in “Ekman-Wilson.” She is a teacher of the Alexander technique, which is all about unlearning all your “bad” postural habits and allowing your body to move as it was designed to. She used to talk about her attempts to patent this chair in class back in the mid-90s. I’m happy she finally did it.

      You all might be interested in the Alexander technique itself…it’s pretty amazing.

  30. Ah Thanks for this mark. This is just what i needed. It’s all about preventing back problems before they happen. i continuously change seating arrangements and this is something i refer to on the go. 🙂

  31. I’ve been trying to keep my posture straight and true for a while. This article had perfect timing and showed me a lot of things I should do and some things I’m doing wrong. I’m definitely going to try all of the things you suggested! Thanks for all the great info every day!!

  32. good post.

    I wish i had a sit-stand desk at work, especially as i have a herniate disc and sitting can be painful, but the desks are too expensive.

    I make sure I walk every lunch hour, and alternate between a kneeling stool and ordinary chair. Still far from ideal though.

    Working from home has just been introduced in my workplace, so I try to telework 1 day per week so i can do whatever i want (stand, lie down etc)

  33. Great post! I’m really considering bringing in my yoga ball (which I never use now that I joined a crossfit gym) and sitting on it at work. I’m sure people will comment, and I can keep the chair around for when clients come in, but I really like this idea. With my mind on the office environment, I was wondering if you could do a post about high heeled shoes. Though I doubt you have any PERSONAL experience…they’re obviously not very grok-friendly, and yet I still find myself turning back to wearing them at work, even when they make my feet hurt or my calves cramp up. I need a brain reset when it comes to heels.

  34. Couldn’t you accomplish good posture in a chair by treating it as if it where a stool? In other words, sit upright and don’t use the back, just pretend it’s not there. That’s what I’m doing now my posture feels pretty good.

  35. I remember going to Haiti back in 1985 for a medical mission trip. All of the people there sat squat style. They could also carry lots of stuff on their head. I learned to do both while there. Carrying a load of stuff on your head forces you to have really good posture while doing it!

  36. I’m stuck with chairs, but I hardly ever sit like a normal person. I find it much more comfortable to sort of lounge-squat at an angle. I’m not sure that it’s actually better for me, though. It’s easier to do for longer periods of time, so I’m less inclined to leave.

    I do get up and walk frequently – in fact, I have a very hard time sitting still (OCPD? ADD? Something like that), so I don’t have to worry about clots.

  37. I spend eight hours a day in the office, mostly at my PC; but I get up often – to fetch a printout, go talk to someone, get a cup of coffee, and so on. I never use the back of my chair and would be quite happy to sit on a stool instead, so long as I could adjust the height.

    I have found the Alexander Technique extremely helpful in developing awareness and control of my posture. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to find out what is the proper use of one’s body, whether or not they already suffer from back problems or other symptoms of poor use.

  38. Every time I have had a ‘desk job’ I develop horrible pain in my hip flexors and even get muscle spasms in my buttocks. Has anyone else ever heard of this happening? The pain and limping are such that I am considering changing careers – to one where I can stand all day again!

  39. If sitting in a chair is generally bad how about just lying in a bed? You can still use your laptop but naturally your upper back area is going to be bent. Still the position feels much more relaxed. Which is worse, this or sitting?

  40. Lying down flat on your back ultimately will be worse that sitting in the chair all day.

    The point is to get the body engaged in some sort of exercise.

  41. Actually, lying flat would decrease the pressure off your back then sitting or standing all day. Although, this is not functional at all. No matter whether you stand or sit all day at the desk, it is always good to move around and give your body a break and stretch.

    1. There are actually “balans” kneeling chairs designed to place your spine in the same position it is in while you are standing. This provides an open hip angle and help with better breathing, blood flow and overall wellness. The company to oringally make these chairs was called Stokke and is now called Varier. Their products have a large range of needs, I suggest Wing balans, Variable balns or Multi balans (Multi can be adjusted for use at the most “extreme” setting – an excellent solutions for those with severe back problems or those who have just had back surgery!) I bought my variable balans at ergodepot.com – these Varier Furniture chairs are built for movement and mine has helped me tremendously.

  42. I am only 21! And I sit at a desk for work 8 hours a day and I had to be hospitalized for 2 weeks due to blood clot in my leg. I am way too young for this.

  43. A stability ball is the way to go. It makes it much easier to sit up straight and it allows you to move your body all day. Nevertheless, I still stand up quite often. The best part is that it’s fun: you can bounce, you can balance, you can move around. Perfect!

  44. I’ve been sitting on a yoga ball at work for about two years. I love it.

  45. Kneeling chairs are the way to go. The original design comes from Varier (formerly Stokke). They encourage you to sit “naturally” while retaining the curves in your spine that you have while standing. They also encourage good posture, better breathing and therefore improved concentration. They are a wonderful and safe alternative to a traditional chair, much safer than a stability ball. Check them out backcarebasics.com

  46. Americans are doomed. We are forced to sit at desks for 8-12 hours a day and there aren’t really any labor protection laws. So if it makes a sick its also our own problem. I guess I just have to sit around at work hoping I can stay employed and have health unsurance to cover the ailments being caused by the standard workday. Its really a drag being an american wage slave (BTY: sure, this is better than being in some third world nation with no economy, but it also isn’t as good as some Europeans have ut).

  47. Also the whole bike/walk to work thing needs to stop. Some people have to wear suits to work, possibly don’t have a place to shower at work, need to be on call to drive to a clients office or just plain work in a conservative enviroment where being seen riding a bike to work will get you on the sh*t list. Contrary to belief, americans do not have choices in the way they wish to conduct thier lives at work if thier boss/company disapproves in any way.

  48. Mark, your article seems to imply/recommend that standing is a better alternative to sitting. I would argue that both standing and sitting for extended periods of time is unnatural. Grok was either moving around or resting on the ground (like you said, sprawled out, with legs extended). Research has correlated both standing and sitting (but especially standing) at work with varicose veins, presumably because of increased pressure on veins: “ambulatory venous pressure while sitting is about 60-80 mm of water, as opposed to 20 mm while walking, and the number is only slightly higher (about 100) while standing”. True, only a correlation has been found, and not a causal relationship, but my point is that immobility is the real problem, not whether you’re standing or sitting. So getting a standing desk doesn’t really solve anything if you’re still spending hours glued in the same position. The better recommendation is to take breaks to walk around. And maybe, this also implies that when relaxing (reading a book, watching a movie), a more natural position is to spawl out on the couch, legs up on an ottoman.

    Side note: Mark, you should set up a way to link in the comments box, so people could site sources (like research articles).

  49. I work on an ambulance which requires me to sit a lot. I also teach medical classes/certs which has me driving all over the place, usually 1-3 hrs away. I hate sitting! I just wished they made cars/vehicles that allowed u to assume the kneeling or standing position. Imagine if u could sit on a stability ball while driving :p lol

  50. I have worked for years in my home office on a horrible desk. Lately my neck has been killing me, plus my fingers have been tingling far too much.

    A month ago I bought a Workrite Sierra electric sit and stand workstation from a company called Ergoprise. It’s been amazing and the desk cost less then $1,495.00. It seems expensive but was the best 1500.00 I’ve ever spent.
    http://www.ergoprise.com is their site

  51. Changed jobs from teaching position where I was frequently on my feet and moving to one where I am immobilized to a desk. My back pain is back that I hadn’t had in years (from my last desk job). I don’t know what to do, but I’m trying to stand up periodically, take the stairs for exercise during lunch, and some at home exercise. I agree with the poster who said American labor laws are archaic and inhumane. It’s time people started trying to change this stuff and support workers.

  52. I used a medicine ball and kneeling chair for a while at a desk but found myself with both getting other kinds of RSI pains. Standing sounds like something to try! I’ve also wondered about the crazy idea of having a desk in a pool of water!?

  53. I just finished building my standing/tread desk. Thanks for the idea.

  54. I recently purchased a sit-stand desk from Jaymil and it’s been great… I don’t think I could be as productive if I was standing all day long, but definitely having to option to quickly go from sitting to standing has been beneficial. Got the entire desk, including shipping, for $844… highly recommend it: http://www.jaymil.com/Products/DetailView.php?p=431

  55. Dr Joseph Weisberg & Heidi Shink’s book “3 Minutes to a Pain-Free Life” calls the chair “the seat of all evil” and advocate no longer than 45 minutes in a chair without getting up and moving. It’s a very informative, helpful and practical book for those ‘everyday’ aches and pains that we seem to accept as part of getting older.

  56. I laughed at this post – I DO use a balance ball as a chair, and it doesn’t make me feel ridiculous at all. Sitting on it is a workout all on its own, because it forces you to stay in a proper posture – slouching on the ball guarantees a sore back. It also has the other, more well known perk – as a tool for challenging workouts. So for those that have a hard time remembering to keep proper posture in mind – the balance ball will assist. Not completely sure that a boss would allow an office worker to bring a ball in, but it’s honestly worth trying!

    Best of luck, Anti-Sitters!!

  57. 8 hours a day in a chair at work. Work at a Police call centre so leaving my station is not an option, we have no real choice on chairs and WPH&S banned balls because too many people fall off them. I try to stand as much as I can but the phone rings or the radio calls, I sit down and start typing.

    At home – yep a lot of sitting too. But that, I can fix.

  58. I just built a treadmill desk in my office. I don’t work for home, but I have a significant amount of autonomy in the workplace. I know I get tired and unproductive from long bouts of sitting, and I know from standing long watches on the bridge of a ship that prolonged standing can cause pain in the feet, knees, and back.

    Walking, however, is something Grok was designed to do, and do well. I’m typing this now while walking at 1.5MPH. I’ve been at it for 66minutes now today, for a total 1.64 miles and 249 calories reported burned by the treadmill computer.

    Treadmill was $150 on craigslist, and I disassembled it so I could set the console out of the way, but within reach. I put a folding table and some non-skid on my desk. $20 total at walmart. So for $170, I have a working treadmill desk, and can walk 8 hours a day. ~12 miles. Sure beats sitting on the ass all day.

  59. Excellent post. I have been trying to educate myself on this sitting/standing debate. For those of you interested in learning more, I find most works by Australian Jenny Pynt, PhD quite interesting: http://varierusa.com/?p=1696

    1. The link to varierusa was an interesting read, and it is appreciated that the author cites lots of references. However, do be careful putting too much faith in the conclusions reached by a company who sells ergonomic furniture. Even with the best of intentions, their conclusions will almost always support buying their product.

  60. Mark,

    After reading your 16 tips for desk jockeys post I started adding more standing time (and walking) into my office day. I schedule in my calendar time to work at a high table in another area of my office building, and have created a “stand” for my laptop that raises it to be about counter height so that I can spend an hour, or a few, working standing up. When I work remotely from home I set up in the kitchen on my island where I move the stool aside and work standing most of the day.

  61. Hey Mark, I found your blog after frantically searching for some kind of chair to help my veins…

    Just this morning, I woke up to a pain in my leg – and I went to a vein doctor.

    Gratefully, I’m in Florida for the winter so there are specialists all over the place down here.

    I sit at the computer ALL DAY, and this thing scared the bejabbers out of me. Enough to send me to a doctor for the first time in 6 years…

    So, now I need to figure out some kind of compromise to allow me to continue working, but keep me from sitting too long.

    I send a big Thank You to all your commenters, who offered ideas. I’m gonna go check some of their links to see these workstations, etc.

    Life’s too short already to shorten it any further with sitting on one’s tuckus… Cheers! Kath 🙂

  62. A few years ago I read something about the evils of sitting and created a stand-up work station. I do computer programming/website design and tap on the keys a lot during the day.

    At first it was kind of annoying having to stand up, but I kept at it and now sitting down at a desk to work feels strange. I prefer standing up and it works for me.

    I have a stool that I’ll use if necessary, but most of the time I’m on my feet.

    I highly recommend it to anyone who’s situation allows them to have a stand-up workstation. Be sure to have everything up high enough so your posture doesn’t suffer.

  63. I agree with all of your advice, for a healthy person that is. Problem is that in a previous job alI injured my back, severely. I how have two bulging discs between L4-S1. I also now drive for a living, one of the few places that will hire me, being self-employed, after the workers comp dispute, and injury. Getting out and walking after sitting only causes my back to get worse after a couple of days, and I’m flat on my back. What can I do? I recline in the leather seats of the luxury sedan as the only remedy I have found and sometimes sleep with ice packs too. Thanks.

  64. I converted by at home office to a sit down/stand up desk and every hour I switch positions. It’s a ghetto version made with books and shoeboxes, but it does the trick. The next step is wall mounting my second monitor for the ideal neck Good posture is a constant struggle!

    I’m writing a blog about this and I’m definitely going to highlight some of the points you made, great article!

  65. One can modify their desk to be a stand-up workstation for under $50 using inexpensive items from Ikea and your local hardware store. This is the best writeup on how to do so (with pictures).

    http://www.jinyoungkim.com/blog/2012/07/standing-desk/

    The above is an improvement upon the original article which is here:

    http://iamnotaprogrammer.com/Ikea-Standing-desk-for-22-dollars.html

    By the way, I’ve been working standing up for 18 months now. I stand on a 1″ foam pad (a sleeping pad for hunters). Very comfortable.

  66. I find sitting Indian style(on the floor, folded legs) most comfortable. Being an IT professional I need to sit on the chair for long stretches, watching the computer screen. But I start feeling really bad if I sit for more than 45 min continuously. My back starts to feel heavy and I feel to get off the chair and move and stretch a bit. On holidays, at home working on my laptop usually sitting Indian style. Even if I sit for more than 2 hours straight, this way, I don’t feel the way I feel when I sit on a chair for 45 min. No bad feeling in the back or tiredness. Sitting Indian style I even feel that it helps in digestion which I have experienced.
    The conventional way of meditating is to do it sitting in this way and not using a chair.
    I think this is the most healthy way of sitting which is already proven.

  67. If you need a normal looking office chair, you might take a look at the Swingseat from Aeromotion (although now I’m seeing it also with other brands on it). You should still be able to see a video of it in action at http://www.swingseat.com. It was designed with computer use in mind. I bought one several years ago and was able to toss away any special pillows I’d tried before. Really made a difference for my back. Since everything easily moves when you do (back and seat tilt), it makes movement much easier from a seated position (both purposeful movement and fidgeting). I even do “chair walking”- walk in place type movements, up and down or side to side, while sitting in it. I definitely started moving a lot more with much more comfort with this chair. It’s also easier just to get up out of it quickly for some reason. The shaping of the back and seat must have something to do with it also, but the easy movement has to be a large part of it. I had several weeks of sciatica due to a lifting injury and found that the chair properly used (sitting back in it, not on the edge) was the most comfortable situation possible during a very uncomfortable time… Better than any suggested towels and pillows etc.

    My main keyboard is on a pullout shelf but I also have an overbed type rolling table between me and the desk holding the monitor which holds another keyboard and trackball, so I can proofread or read standing up and walking in place (the monitor can adjust vertically with a pull or push). I need to put a little box under the trackball for serious work, and another box under the top keyboard if doing serious typing, but for my work I do typing better sitting. But I can go between sitting and standing easily. So you don’t have to spend a fortune to be able to switch between sitting and standing. But it’s still important to get up and move frequently- I use games and reading on my phone while walking in place for that. Still, having a chair that facilitates and really encourages movement makes a huge difference to me.

    By the way, I find that walking in place while I’m proofreading (checking the English onscreen against hardcopy source language doc, I’m a scientific translator) makes a big difference in my efficiency, alertness, and accuracy even when I’m very tired. I can fall asleep in the swivel chair now, so I need to stay awake… 🙂

    Many years ago, I remember seeing a computer chair that allows a semi reclining position, but haven’t seen it in a while and I don’t really have room for that. But I was tempted… I’m better off with the current arrangement, though, I fall asleep too easily as it is!

  68. I haven’t read all the comments, but I wanted to be sure to mention the work of the folks at the Balance Center http://www.balancecenter.com (there are other centers around but this is the one I know of). They teach traditional posture, based on research that looks at cultural groups that haven’t learned the modern slouch. It’s fascinating, and it’s definitely Primal.

  69. Very useful information, thanks. Going for the office chair in the current market that is flooded with numerous office chairs from different manufacturers can be a very difficult task.