Designing a healthier way to sit at our tables
There’s plenty of evidence that prolonged sitting, especially static sitting, is a health hazard. Extensive research correlates sitting in chairs with all sorts of back pain, cardiovascular or circulatory issues, obesity, digestion problems and even stress. The most apparent of these issues; back pain; is the leading cause of disability globally, contributing to more than 25% of societal healthcare costs, untold misery and lost productivity.
Due to the ever-changing work environment—hastened by a global pandemic—it’s not hard to conclude that many of the behaviours captured by research in the office setting are becoming increasingly prevalent in the home.
It's little wonder that sitting is being labelled ‘the new smoking’ and most advice for avoiding the health issues boils down to sitting less and moving more. But, standing desks aside, is it realistic to expect we can all drastically reduce our sitting time? We’re spending more and more time sitting around our tables as well as our desks. More often these days, our desks are our tables.
If how we sit and for how long can have adverse effects on our health then are there healthier ways to sit, or healthier chairs to sit in when we do take a seat at the table?
In her Guardian article entitled “The tyranny of chairs; why we need better design” Sara Hendren observed; “Chairs are generally not a response to the realities of the body, its natural evolution, or its needs over any extended period. Instead, the industrialised body has devolved in its needs and succumbed to chairs.”
It's obvious to us, furniture designers and suppliers, that we need to continue to respond to these health and wellbeing issues with seating design that’s fundamentally better for people – both in terms of their physiology and their way of life.
Recent decades have seen considerable design expertise applied to creating healthier ‘task’ (desk) chairs for the office, motivated by responsibility for employee health and wellbeing, satisfaction and productivity. Ergonomic and adjustable, with dynamic function and flexibility to promote movement and better long-term comfort, premium office chairs are arguably the healthiest chairs you can sit in. There are also ‘active sitting’ products like swiss balls and wobble-stools for those up for an even more challenging sit and aesthetic.
But ergonomic office chairs or wobble-stools don’t look great around your dining table, not to mention the hassle of re-adjusting them from one sitter to the next.
These days our tables are used for a multitude of activities from meeting and socialising to working from home or on craft projects or helping the kids with homework, as well as dining. Yet sadly precious little effort has gone into designing healthier seating for everyday use around our tables – at home or in the office.
Research by our design team at Formway identified that 80% of what we do around our dining and kitchen tables is not dining, and most dining chairs are poorly suited to these various activities, and typically unsuited even to a healthy dining experience. They found that most table chairs are still static objects, designed more for appearance than performance, and lacking in ergonomic multi-postural support, healthy movement or sustainable comfort, the keys to healthier sitting.
So after three decades of designing premium ergonomic office chairs for world-leading brands (including Knoll) the need to design a fundamentally better, healthier table chair was obvious. Formway’s design response is a chair (noho move) with dynamic function and a flexible seat shell that together respond intuitively to the sitters' movement, posture and body weight. It provides a subconscious sitting experience that flows naturally with the body and the activity.
The noho move chair’s dynamic rocking motion and back flex encourage movement and postural variation, anticipating forward movements which we engage in while talking, working, or eating, as well as open postures to relax and relieve pressure on the lungs and other organs and extend the spine and hip flexors. Its flexible seat shell provides an ergonomic form that supports healthy posture yet flexes to relieve static loading and pressure points, enhancing blood flow and long-term comfort. It is through this combination of dynamic movement, ergonomic form and flexibility (or compliance) that the noho move chair addresses the key health issues commonly associated with sitting, best demonstrated in the chart below.
The noho move sitting experience is different in a healthy way, the most obvious sensation being one of movement and comfort or, like a great pair of shoes, the absence of discomfort. But then again discomfort is the body’s way of telling you something’s not good for us.
Achieving this healthier way to sit without knobs and adjustments and resolving it in an elegantly simple, modern dining chair aesthetic was the real challenge. But we shouldn’t discount the positive influence that visual delight in our living spaces has on our well-being.
Many of us spend more than half our waking hours sitting and so how we sit should not be something we have to be constantly aware of but it should be as healthy as it can be.