Your Chair and You

Is Chair Design For You or Against You?

Chair design has come a long way. Once thought of as just something you sit on, it now has reached heights of design that astound. Chair design has sparked the interest of artists, architects, designers and scientists. Sometimes, the results even end up in museums.

Actually, if you have spent much time in museums, you may notice that chairs from way back also end up there, as a part of our history.

The question is…have they really come a long way?

Let’s take a look at the history of the chair for a minute. Chairs apparently did not always exist. Chairs from 7500 BC have been found, but not much before that. People sat on the ground, hung out in a deep squat position, or were reclining. Later on, chairs were designed for the elite, and were a sign of social status (throne, anyone?).

In the Middle Ages, stools were often used at first, until the idea of putting a back on it came along. In the 18th century, things started to get fancy. Artisans and craftsmen began to make Chippendales, and other ornate chairs that could be seen as status symbols. Sitting around in a parlor to socialize became a high-end sort of activity.

Once the industrial revolution came along, with the possibility of manufacturing, the chair became much more common for everyone. Indeed, some people began to sit on them during work hours.

Then along came the huge economic shift to office work, not to mention TV, technology, and extended car travel. Along with that came the drive to make sitting more ergonomic, in an attempt to cut down on medical costs of rehabilitation and health issues related to chair sitting.

These issues are related to hands, arms, shoulders and necks. These are the obvious ones. But, there is also the fact that chair sitting causes a downshift in fat metabolism related to how the pancreas works with the liver. This kind of thing has very deleterious effects on our overall health and well being.

So, how have they tried to combat this? New designs are coming out all the time, some of which look almost scary, don’t even look like chairs, don’t look even remotely comfortable, and they can be exquisitely expensive.

What is it that they are trying to accomplish?

Here, there are several key issues at stake.

  1. Sitting compresses your lumbar vertebrae to the tune of 30% more than when you are standing. The deal is to design a chair that encourages retention of your lumbar curve, which is there to combat some of these compressive forces. However, many people with these chairs never sit back far enough on them to take advantage of this.
  2. A seat that is at right angles to the back, even if it has the lumbar curve built in, presses on the back of the thighs. This leads to circulation problems of all sorts. The right angle ALSO creates compression of your diaphragm and internal organs. This can cause less than optimal breathing and digestive problems. In response to this, some chairs are now designed with the seat tilted forward and down.
  3. Chair height is an issue. Supposedly the average height of females is 5’3”, and the average height of males is 5’9”. The average height of a chair seat is usually put at 18” off the ground. This is suitable for less than half of adults. At this height, if the person is short, the seat will press on the back of the thighs or cause issues at the back of the knee. If it is too short for a tall person, they would find their knees higher than the bottom of their pelvis. This creates a rounded lumbar curve that, over time, can cause problems. Many desk chairs now have an adjustable feature for height, which people may or may not take advantage of. But there are still plenty of chairs that do not have this feature.
  4. Since a chair with a back can weaken torso muscles over time, many of the newest designs are more like stools. If designed correctly, this design will also help the sitter to have to activate leg muscles, which can be helpful to overall health.
  5. The latest idea is to make chairs that encourage movement. There are various ways to do this. One is to have a split seat that calls for making shifts in body position. Another is to leave space on the sides of the chair for the thighs to splay outwards, encouraging movement and activation of leg muscles. Another is to create a chair that has a person seated, but in an almost standing position, feet on the floor, seat tilted forward. This one seems the best to date, as it puts all spine curves in the best position, and head and neck not straining forward.

In the end, there is no perfect chair. And, I bet you know what I am going to say next! Get out of the chair as often as possible to treat your body right! Studies have shown that you actually think better on your feet anyway, but that’s another topic for another day.

For now, cheers, and get up and move!
Kristen Carter

P.S. If you want to check out the latest in chair technology, here’s a few websites:

© 2018-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.

Design for Fitness - Personal Assessment

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