Alternatives to sitting from Monday to Friday
Many scientific studies have been published about how dangerous it can be to spend long periods of time sitting. The focus has so far been only on conventional 90/90 sitting (hips and knees in 90-degree angles), a posture that really sets in motion many harmful processes within the body. The ‘sitting kills – standing saves’ message of these studies has been repeated many times in the media, but it is not the whole truth. This article by Veli-Jussi Jalkanen, founder and CEO of Salli, provides a more comprehensive and accurate explanation from an expert view.
Dangerous sitting = conventional 90/90 sitting
The main health dangers of conventional sitting come from the decreased circulation of blood (4–6 litres) and lymphatic fluid (12–15 litres) through the over 400,000 kilometres of vessels and all the internal organs, including about 700 lymph nodes, that make up our bodies. This circulation is essential for the body. Any long-term disturbance of it disrupts our metabolism and negatively impacts our health.
Circulation is disturbed by 90/90 sitting because of:
- muscle tension in the back, neck and shoulders;
- pressure of the upper body on the buttocks and thighs;
- pressure in the abdominal cavity due to the resulting slouched posture;
- pressure and weakened circulation in the groin vessels and soft tissues, aggravated by fashionable tight clothes that get even tighter in this posture;
- Pressure on vessels in the hips and knees from the 90-degree angles there;
- shallower breathing caused by the slouched posture and muscle tensions; and
- poor physical activity.
We think of the heart as a pump, but it circulates only 25 per cent of our blood; physical motion is the ‘engine’ of circulation. A healthy metabolism requires relaxed muscles and a certain amount of repeated movements (i.e. changes of pressure in the soft tissues that keep the fluids moving). Relaxed muscles and changing position (pressure areas) repeatedly, as happens during sleep, is enough for sufficient circulation and metabolism. In conventional sitting, this does not happen, due to tensions and the lack of change in pressure areas.
Problems with standing
Standing is not all good either. People who work on their feet know the problems of arthritis, poor circulation in legs, and tired backs and pelvis it brings. Some countries and health authorities have put serious efforts into making standing a solution (for example, ‘Sitt och Stå’ (sit and stand) in Sweden), which have more or less failed. This is because people don’t know how to stand in balance with slightly bent knees, weight evenly on both feet, slightly more on the balls of the feet. Also, most people’s muscles are too weak for static work like standing. To compensate, people start to lean on one leg and hip, and that is when problems occur. Standing surely has its place; it is suitable for some individuals, and for short breaks in various jobs, but it is definitely not the solution to end all sitting-related problems.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at the problems of standing:
- Continuous pressure on the cartilages of the knees and hips causes osteoarthritis. Cartilage needs rhythmic ‘pressure on/pressure off’ variation to be able to absorb nutrition and oxygen for the renewal of cells. Standing with constant pressure prevents this. That is why osteoarthritis is a common complaint among standing professions.
- People who stand a lot at work suffer from varicose veins, cellulite and swelling of the legs. The muscle activity in changing weight from one foot to the other is far too small to be able to generate sufficient circulation in the legs.
- Standing often causes back problems. The circulation system of the back mechanism and tissues needs movement to work properly and guarantee a healthy back. Standing does not provide enough movement. Back problems related to standing appear more often if the person has scoliosis, poor posture in the spine or pelvis, or any other type of deformation or imbalance in the muscular-skeletal system.
- Muscle tensions may increase. The continuous static position, where the body is being held up in standing, has a tendency to cause tensions in the leg-hip-back area. Tensions block circulation and naturally they get worse over the course of time.
- Feet problems may develop. People who stand at work often suffer frequently from various musculoskeletal disorder problems in their feet. Special shoes and therapies are often tried as a remedy.
- People get tired when standing. Heavy people, and particularly the elderly, find standing too strenuous and tiring. This is due to the muscle tensions and lack of refreshing motion in the body. Lack of circulation causes this tiredness too.
Alternative: healthy sitting
Sitting on a divided saddle chair, in horse-riding-like position (135/135 degree angles) with a good posture and the pelvis tilted forward—as it naturally is when standing—has been discovered to be the healthiest option. Further, the chair should be equipped with easily rolling castors and a swinging seat, the height of the desk must be properly adjusted and clothes should not be too tight. This allows the sitter to have a good posture and deeper breathing, good circulation in all the main vessels, no pressure on the joints in the lower extremities, and hardly any muscle tension.
Saddle sitting produces valuable physical activity through:
- sitting and swinging the seat intentionally, or unconsciously as often happens;
- rolling and reaching (which can be emphasised by placing things a bit further away); and
- getting up from the chair regularly; ‘walking and talking’ or standing; standing up from a saddle chair is easy and does not strain the joints in the same way as getting up from conventional chairs does.
The best activity method is to keep some simple exercise equipment (for instance, light dumbbells, exercise bands, gymstick) close by and do short and light ‘circulation exercises’ (four to six times) during the day. One can also do, for example, push-ups or steps forward to activate circulation.
The media willingly simplifies phenomena and focusses only on the most common claims and allegations, such as ‘standing saves’. Usually this approach to an issue is far from the whole truth.
The world is sitting. That will not be easily changed. But sitting disorders can be prevented.
Michael Adams, Nikolai Bogduk, Kim Burton, Patricia Dolan, The Biomechanics of Back Pain, Churchill Livingstone, London: United Kingdom, 2012David A. Rubenstein, Wei Yin, Mary D. Frame, Biofluid Mechanics, an Introduction to Fluid Mechanics, Macrocirculation, and Microcirculation, Academic Press, 2011.Marcus J. Seibel, Simon P. Robins, John P. Bilezikian, Dynamics of Bone and Cartilage Metabolism, Principles and Clinical Applications, Academic Press, 2006.
Salli Saddle Chair originates in its owner’s favoured hobby, horse-riding. Owner and CEO Veli-Jussi Jalkanen has been horse-riding since 1974. His way of life has always been active and healthy, but still he suffered from back pain while sitting in the office. In 1990, he started experimenting with seats by carving a saddle out of wood for a chair. Now, exactly 30 years later, Salli Saddle Chairs are exported to more than 70 countries around the world.