Ergonomic or Not: Are All Chairs Bad For You?

Ergonomic or Not: Are All Chairs Bad For You?

Catrin Morris
May 3, 2012

A hilarious and provocative article in the latest issue of the journal Jacobin posits that chairs are...well, evil. Author Colin McSwiggen writes, "I hate to piss on the party, but chairs suck. All of them. No designer has ever made a good chair, because it is impossible. Some are better than others, but all are bad.

He writes that chairs are a public health hazard, citing a massive American Cancer Society study that found sitting for extended periods during the day dramatically increases the risk of death. This is true even among the fittest, healthiest yogis among us: "Just being seated, in excess, will hurt you." But McSwiggen argues that this study actually understates the issue because it makes it look like the problem is how much we sit, not the real culprit: the chairs. "Sitting wouldn't be so bad if we didn't sit on things that are bad for us."

While your average chair may not seem as malevolent as the skull chair pictured above, this goes for uncomfortable chairs, (which "encourage the sitter to adopt slouched postures that restrict circulation, impede respiratory and intestinal function, and lead to musculoskeletal injuries") and comfortable chairs, which encourage the sitter to "remain in a single static position for long durations without moving, they put extended, unrelieved stress on the spine, weaken the muscles that support the body's frame and prevent injury, and cause the same circulatory problems as their less comfortable counterparts."

But what about those fabulous ergonomic chairs?? Surely they have solved some of these problems? Well, according to Galen Cranz, a sociologist of architecture and perhaps the world's preeminent chair scholar, ergonomics is "confused and even silly."

Yes, some admirable strides have been taken to make chairs less deadly. But McSwiggen says ball chairs, kneeling chairs, and chairs that encourage sitting in several different positions often don't work with common table heights and are too aesthetically unconventional to be acceptable in most offices.

After a fascinating look into the social history of chairs, McSwiggen concludes that whether you think chairs are the devil inanimate or a necessary evil, "the best habit to develop is not to stay seated for more than ten minutes at a time."

That means YOU. Get up! Read Apartment Therapy while you are walking around yourself. You'll get good at it, I promise. Those initial bumps and scrapes will heal!

Read more: Against Chairs at Jacobin

(Image: Muuuz via Notcot.)

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