Are you sitting comfortably? If so, the chances are you’re doing it wrong. Because of its negative health impacts, sitting has been dubbed the new smoking. The human body is programmed to be upright for far longer each day than is the norm in our modern lifestyles. Not only that. The way we sit that has the experts tut-tutting. As much as sedentary habits are to blame, chair and sofa design also has a lot to answer for. In Hong Kong, where office workers are seated for 13 hours a day on average , according to a University of Hong Kong study, getting the right work chair is imperative. Happily, some brands are reinventing chairs to be kinder to our bodies. Galen Cranz, a professor of the Graduate School in Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, says it is shocking how poorly designed chairs are for the average body. “The right-angle seated posture rolls the top of the pelvis backward, which reverses the slight forward curve of the lumbar spine, leading to a C-shaped spine with collapsed chest,” she says. “The seated posture was originally used by those in authority for relatively short periods of time, but in contemporary life it has become pervasive despite its anatomical challenges.” Upper body posture needs to resemble the standing position without any supports. Only then can our spine, lungs, intestine, eyes, shoulders and chest function well and maintain good circulation and muscle activity Veli-Jussi Jalkanen, founder of Salli Systems Cranz, who studies the topic, says that, with some exceptions, chair design “hasn’t changed enough” to meet today’s needs, including changing body shapes. Firstly, we’re getting larger. According to the World Health Organisation, obesity has nearly tripled since 1975 . Nearly half the 41 million children under the age of five years estimated to be overweight or obese in 2016 lived in Asia. Cranz argues that, while designers have built sturdier chairs for heavier people, “they have not confronted the problem of the forward-craned neck, which is caused, in part, by the right-angle seated posture”. Secondly, says Cranz, people’s spines are less upright today due to the rise of sedentary culture over the last century. Most sofas, designed as they are primarily for creature comfort, are “too soft and too deep” for the majority of people, Cranz says. “Old fashioned settees – with a high back and the relatively firm surfaces that keep the sitter from slumping – would be better,” he says. Norwegian industrial designer Peter Opsvik, who made a career out of “rethinking sitting” (and released a book of the same name in 2008), was one of the early innovators. The Tripp Trapp chair he designed for his son in 1972 earned a place in the Century of the Child exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and over the decades Opsvik has collaborated with many high-end furniture brands. His belief that bodies are meant to move is epitomised in the Capisco work chair by HAG, first produced in 1984; the latest model, the HAG Capisco Puls, released in 2010, remains a chair that Cranz recommends for people who spend long hours at a desk. Known as “the saddle chair”, the Capisco was inspired by a horseback rider’s dynamic posture. The seat and backrest have cut-out spaces for arms and legs, which give the user freedom to vary their posture to facilitate many sitting positions and desk heights. For variation, you can even sit on the chair backwards using the backrest as a chest support. The aesthetic codes for [office] chairs more closely resemble an orthopaedic tool than a cherished work companion Jean Louis Iratzoki, Iratzoki Lizaso co-founder The Saddle Chair by Finnish brand Salli has no back or arm rests; according to Veli-Jussi Jalkanen, founder of Salli Systems, this design is best for all bodies. “Upper body posture needs to resemble the standing position without any supports. Only then can our spine, lungs, intestine, eyes, shoulders and chest function well and maintain good circulation and muscle activity,” he says. “If the seat in this concept is unstable or swinging [as it is in the Salli chair], it creates micro movement in the spine and thus activates circulation, especially in the crucial low back tissues like discs.” For those who prefer a more conventional work chair, global brand Herman Miller has long been at the forefront of ergonomic design. New on the market is its Cosm chair. Equipped with an innovative tilt mechanism and the latest suspension material, the chair is designed to respond to the user’s body movement for optimal support and a balanced recline. This means that the user does not have to make an effort to recline or to come back to an upright seated position: the movement is described as smooth and balanced, “like two kids on a see-saw”. Maria Andreu, chair specialist at Herman Miller, says the chair “cradles your body, making sitting on it truly comfortable”. “The flexibility of the material supports you in the right places, while the permeability of its construction allows the body temperature to regulate, so you won’t get hot and sweaty,” she says. The biggest innovation is in the tilt, Andreu says. “As opposed to conventional weight-activated tilts, the Auto-Harmonic tilt is based on your vertical force – it takes your weight when you sit down and sets the tension of the recline. It’s a balanced recline, where you don’t have to make any effort.” This is an advance on the Harmonic tilt first incorporated in an earlier Herman Miller model, the Mirra chair, and involves storing energy in the springs when you recline, which is released when you sit upright again. Meanwhile, the chair’s leaf arm “cradles your elbow to avoid any pressure on the ulnar nerve” (or “funny bone”). Also new on the market is the Lan chair, produced by French furniture manufacturer Alki in partnership with Iratzoki Lizaso Design Studio and billed as “the office chair for people who don’t like office chairs”. “The aesthetic codes for [office] chairs more closely resemble an orthopaedic tool than a cherished work companion,” says Jean Louis Iratzoki, Iratzoki Lizaso co-founder. “Moreover, most of the adjustment devices are rarely used. “If, on top of that, one considers that in many cases, office chairs frequently change users, it seemed an interesting idea to get rid of its superfluous functions.” The functional characteristics of the Lan chair are inconspicuous: the mechanism disappears under the seat and the armrests form an integral part of the backrest. Wood is used both inside and outside the seat, the shape and choice of materials designed for comfort and aesthetic appeal. Together, clever chair design, combined with a shift in our sitting behaviour, might just be a remedy for the modern malady known as sitting disease, with all its detrimental health effects.