Your Office Chair Is Hurting You
But also, forget standing desks. Try ‘active sitting,’ according to a trauma surgeon who wants to cure sitting disease.
Dr. Turner Osler was perfectly content working as a trauma surgeon at the University of Vermont — then he received a grant for researching biostatistics from the National Institutes of Health, which required him to regularly sit down at a desk for the first time in his career. That’s when his back pain started. “All the chairs I tried made my back worse, so I took a deep dive over the course of the year to figure out a better and affordable solution,” he says.
Now, Osler, who’s currently a research epidemiologist at the University of Vermont, channels his health research into a new mission: preventing what he calls “sitting disease.” On top of creating and selling chairs that promote “active sitting” — which requires sitters to move while in the chair — Osler donates chairs to schools around the country, which he views as a practical way to improve public health.
I spoke with him about the impact of sitting disease, the problem with modern ergonomics (including standing desks), and how he plans to use his research and designs to improve public health.
Elemental: How does your work as an epidemiologist encourage you to educate people on the health implications of constantly sitting?
Turner Osler: What I’m most interested in is sitting disease, which is a constellation of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease that seems to come as a package. We’re in an epidemic of all these things. It’s likely the case that sitting still all day is mostly the source of these problems.
But that’s a hard case, because most people don’t care about a heart attack they might have 20 years from now. But what people do care about is the back pain they have right now.
Active sitting, which requires people to move when they’re sitting, solves both of these problems, reducing back pain and increasing metabolic rate. We’re kind of hijacking sitters’ neuromuscular systems and compelling them to be active, even when they sit.