When Bill Stumpf launched the Aeron task chair for manufacturer Herman Miller in the late 1980s, he probably had no idea of the profound effect his impressive design would have on the understated office furniture market. Once home to the banal and soft foam molded seats on wheels, the task chair was now housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, sharing exhibition space with Picasso, Gaugin and Rodin.
A sea change quickly occurred in the design and manufacture of the humble old-fashioned office chair. Combining the aesthetics of high design with the arrival of new materials such as durable mesh fabrics and more sophisticated pneumatic devices, task chairs achieved a level of comfort never before (or even thought of). Desk-bound workforces found it much easier to spend those eight hours a day answering phones or typing data into increasingly “content-starved” computers. Increased productivity in the closed work environment. This all sounds pretty good, and at first glance, it’s a great case for maximizing office comfort.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case with a “sea change,” most people don’t bother to pay much attention to the unintended consequences in the new waters. About twenty years after new wave products became the default sitting solutions, some disturbing medical data emerged.
It just turns out that of all the external health risks people carry (smoking, drinking, taking drugs), perhaps the most insidious and damaging over time is, well, just “sitting around.” As lifestyles become increasingly sedentary OUTSIDE the workplace (car trips, television), work habits also encourage inactivity. It’s easy enough to sit in a cool work chair for four hours and never have to move. It is also deadly.
In 2010, the American Cancer Society published the results of a 13-year study that tracked the health effects of sitting in 123,216 working men and women. The results were sobering.
Women who were inactive and sat an average of six or more hours a day were 94% more likely to die during the time period studied than their peers who sat less than 3 hours a day.
Men who sat similarly 6 hours or more per day were 48% more likely to die than their male counterparts who worked in conditions that required them to spend most of their work day on their feet. An interesting footnote from the study is that the damage of excessive inactivity is not really “compensable.” The effects were equally apparent, for example, among people who regularly exercised outside of work.
Peter Opsvik has created a line of chairs that accepts the reality that modern tasks require “sitting”, but adapts the chairs to allow and facilitate full ranges of motion for the whole body. Chairs encourage natural movement and fit, creating critical variation in blood flow, breathing, and healthy muscle contraction. In the course of 8 h. Today, these “small movements” can add years to the life of a population that is less and less active.