For many years, well, as long as I can remember really, everyone has barked at me, ‘sit up, stop slouching, it’s not good for your back’

I’m sure you were no different. As a child, everyone has at one time or another been told to sit up straight. I definitely have found myself telling my own daughters to do the same, usually over meal times.

I never thought to challenge the posture police as everyone quoted the exact same party line, so the assumption was that it must be true. I now have a condition of the spine (that may have been an old sports injury), which basically means sitting for prolonged spells is quite painful and something I try to avoid at all costs. At its most severe I lose the use of my legs and have found the chilled, laid back sitting approach beneficial in relieving the pressure on my aching, ageing bones.

As I look around me here in the studio every single one of the design team is practically underneath their workstation. It cannot be a coincidence or peer-led behaviour surely? It appears we all find the laid back or slouched position to be the most comfortable. I know that function must have a bearing on posture and I am aware that as designers, our main actions are mouse clicks rather than intense periods keying. But is this posture beneficial for other functions?

Is sitting bad for us?

So what does the science say? The accepted dictate that arrives with your shiny new mesh backed, status defining, go faster office chair, is to angle the chair to force you to sit upright. If anything, it feels like you have to lean forward to keep it vertical.

I, however, find this to be unsustainable for any length of time and it’s not long before I start to slump into some odd foetal curl in an attempt to relieve the aching formality of the upright. Even the weirdly wonderful kneeling seat option only seems to transfer the pressure from the base of the spine to the knees. So what’s the current thinking around workplace chairs and sitting?

Recent studies have confirmed how sitting down all day is harming our health. Heart disease, diabetes, deep vein thrombosis, obesity and cancer have all been linked to sitting for prolonged periods of time by different researchers. The list of diseases associated with sitting and inactivity make grim reading for millions who spend the majority of their lives in front of a computer be it at home or in the workplace.

The average Briton is said to sit for between nine and 14 hours every day. A recent study by the charity ‘Lifeblood’ found that by sticking to your desk for a three-hour stretch, eating lunch there and spending your time at home on the sofa can double the risk of a blood clot.

Four out of five British people will suffer back pain at some point in their lives. Dr Rishi Loatey, from the British Chiropractic Association, said, “The majority of people we see for back pain are people doing sedentary office type jobs and leading a sedentary lifestyle. If you look at most people’s lifestyle these days, it’s get up, drive or take the train to work, sit at work, take the train or drive back home again and sit at home.

A lot of people don’t even leave their desk at lunchtime. So we’re not getting up and walking about, which is important and what we’re designed to do, but we’re spending the time just sitting. Our bodies aren’t designed for that. Once poor posture becomes habitual, sitters are at risk of developing repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome or work-related upper limb disorders.”

Top tips to avoid back pain:

  • Relax when sitting into your chair, making sure you have your bottom against the seat back with your shoulder blades touching the backrest of the chair
  • Make sure your feet touch the floor (or use a foot rest)
  • There should be space between the front of your seat and back of your calves
  • Your hips should be higher than your knees
  • Arms should be flat and your elbows level with the desk or table you are using. Use a seat with arm rests • Take regular breaks. Never sit at the computer for more than 40 minutes
  • When you take a break, walk around and stretch a little

So the next time I look around the studio and all that is visible is a sea of monitors and not a single head in sight, I will be less inclined to think they’re all too casual and taking it easy.

Are you sitting comfortably? Probably not unless you’re practically lying down. Going forward it seems we need to be laid back... right back.