In case you haven't heard, sitting is the new smoking. And to make matters worse, it appears that no level of physical activity undoes the damage of too many sedentary hours.
But what's the average desk jockey to do? While some employers spring for standing desks, others have left it up to employees themselves to craft DIY standing workstations. Still others have turned to (at least slightly) more active alternatives to the standard desk chair -- chairs that allow you to wobble, bounce and otherwise engage your muscles as you sit.
"The dynamic chairs do offer benefits," says Line Barlund, a senior ergonomist with Ergo Concepts, LLC, who also works as the project director for the nationwide ergonomic program at AOL, the parent company of The Huffington Post. Their biggest benefit comes from their ability to let us sit a little higher than usual, which increases our hip angles, she says. A more open hip angle not only activates the core muscles, but helps us keep more of a natural curve in our spine, called the lumbar lordosis. "Usually when we're sitting, we pull the pelvis under us more," she says, which can lead to disc pressure and other back pain.
Because most of us are lacking in core strength (sorry), we'll likely be inclined to slouch, even on these posture-promoting stools and chairs. But as soon as you start slouching "or getting out of that neutral posture position [or] leaning on your desk," says Barlund, "it's a sign you're getting tired and your muscles are giving up on you a little bit." Don't expect to last the entire workday your first time. "They are good tools for building posture and really great as occasional chairs," she stresses. Like any new activity, sitting on an unstable seat is going to take some practice, and as soon as your form starts slipping, it's time to move on to something more supportive.
There's not necessary one active-sitting solution for everyone, says Barlund, which is why we put nine options currently on the market to the test. Ideally, you'll want to look for something that's height-adjustable, so you can use it as a chair and as more of a standing aid to lean back on. Also, look for something lightweight, since you'll be swapping it for your regular desk chair pretty regularly as you build up that core strength. Make sure it's stable enough that you won't go tumbling to the ground. And don't forget to look for something with a comfortable, cushy seat!
People with existing back problems -- like bulging or herniated discs -- may find sitting whatsoever too painful, says Barlund. Be sure to discuss an alternative seat with your doctor if you have known back issues. Check out some thoughts from our team of testers below.
Think you'll try one? Let us know in the comments below.