Mounting evidence that those who sit less live longer has led some to conclude that sitting is the new smoking. If that makes you feel like your chair is an ashtray, you don’t have to take the news sitting down. Indeed, a number of products on the market today promise to make standing the new sitting — or something like that. So stand by for this article, in which Randstad looks at what’s hip in ergonomic chair alternatives today.
the exercise ball chair.
At first glance, nothing about this looks like a good idea. Which is exactly how, in theory, it works. The exercise ball is unstable, so you have to use muscles in your core, back and legs if you want to avoid major embarrassment, stay level with the screen and get anything done.
In reality, wobbling away your workday is potentially unwise. One study found that sitting on an exercise ball made “no difference in muscle activation” versus an ordinary office chair, and another study concluded that “small changes in biological responses when sitting on a stability ball as compared with an office chair, combined with the increased reported discomfort while on the ball, suggests its use for prolonged sitting may not be advantageous.” Of course, if you’re already devoted to the exercise ball, by all means, keep on bouncing.
the standing desk.
A lot of scientific evidence indicates that prolonged sitting isn’t just bad for you, it’s really, really bad for you. Crazy-but-true studies have established a link between prolonged sitting and colon cancer in men and multiple myeloma, ovarian cancer, and invasive breast cancer in women. Terrified?
Try a standing desk, but be sure to start slowly. Standing for 20 minutes or so at a time is a good place to start. Try to keep your wrists flat against the desk with your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Your computer screen should be 15–30 inches from your eyes, and you’ll want to adjust the height of the screen so that your eyes are more or less level with the tabs in your browser. Finally, anti-fatigue mats — soft pads you stand on that sort of look like the lids of garbage cans — are a popular companion piece for standing desks, and they may help reduce strain.
the treadmill desk.
The evolutionary distance from the standing desk to the treadmill desk is not very far. However, as journalist Susan Orleans warned in a 2013 article: “The biggest problem with working at a treadmill desk [is] the compulsion to announce constantly that you are working at a treadmill desk.”
Think you can handle that? Then bigger problems may await you. For instance, recent studies suggest that, while working at a treadmill desk can have health benefits, it also probably makes you less productive. That is, you may struggle with cognitive processes compared to your seated, stationary peers. Less surprising: you also type less accurately when you’re walking. So it might make sense to sit down at work, get more done in less time, and take breaks to stretch your legs and walk around the office.
the bicycle desk.
Given the surprisingly enduring popularity of the treadmill desk, where else could the market go? Indeed, that helps explain why most of the current bicycle desk models have a sort of mythical centaur quality — exercise-bike component in back, functional workstation component in front. It all just seems slapdash, haphazard and jammed together. On the plus side, these babies harness the active principle that motivated both standing and treadmill desks in the first place, while returning users to a more natural sitting position, which may be the best position for us to actually think and work.
the under-the-desk elliptical.
For anyone who just can’t stand standing desks, a healthy dose of revenge comes in the form of stealthy new under-the-desk elliptical devices. Most of these promise to be “whisper quiet” and come ready for mobile-app integrations, so you can keep track of how many calories you’ve burned — and how many coworkers you’ve secretly exercised in front of — in a given day’s work. Disclaimer: simulated walking, running or climbing stairs won’t get you any closer to reaching project milestones.
Will the day come when we look back on users of these newfangled devices as visionary pioneers who were a century ahead of their time, like the roller-skating telephone switchboard operators of the 1920s? It’s hard to say.
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