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The active office: why exercise when sitting down is not a contradiction in terms

(lifePR) (Selsingen, ) There are around 24 million VDU workplaces in Germany. About three quarters of desk workers suffer from physical complaints, with back problems taking the inglorious lead. There are meanwhile even claims that the potentially major impact of constant sitting on health and life expectancy may even be comparable with the collateral damage of smoking1. The active office is an overall concept that aims to redress this.

People need exercise
Actually, the large number of sitting-related complaints is no great surprise, given that in anatomical terms, the human body is perfectly designed for an active life. But working and living conditions mean that increasing numbers of people sit - usually for hours each day over decades. A dilemma that causes not just backache.

There seems to be no panacea for improving the situation of those who have a sedentary job. However, the culmination of various smaller measures such as the right office furnishings and changed everyday habits can make a good contribution to preventing physical complaints such as backache, other disorders of the musculoskeletal system or concentration problems.

More exercise in everyday routines is the first basic step towards better back health. Going for a brief walk at lunchtime or taking the stairs instead of the lift are just two things that everyone can start doing each for themselves. But the office context also offers plenty of scope for more exercise.

Dynamic sitting in practical implementation
The office chair must be the most important item for office workers who spend eight hours or more sitting on it each working day. A suitable office chair helps to prevent backache or tension in the shoulders and neck from starting at all or to alleviate existing problems. Concentration and performance are also enhanced by making the office workplace increasingly dynamic.

Office chairs and what are known as active sitting furniture bearing the "certified & recommended" seal of approval from the Campaign for Healthier Backs (AGR) are far more than just something to sit on. Up to now there are four concepts that differ in implementation but that share the aspect of supporting active sitting.

The third dimension
For active sitting to be more than just empty words, modern active sitting furniture and office chairs integrate the maximum possible freedom of movement. Three-dimensional sitting furniture permit movement to the back and front and to left and right. Instead of being limited, natural movement impetus is supported by 3D office chairs which adapt ideally to the different movements. Up to now, this concept is available from aeris (www.aeris.de), e.g. with the "3Dee" model and from Dauphin (www.dauphin.de) e.g. with the "Shape mesh" and "Bionic" models in the 3D-Balance series.

Free-float function
Kinnarps (www.kinnarps.de) implements active sitting with the free-float concept: in this case, both the seat and the back rest move, independently of each other. A free-float office chair supports every change in the sitting position. While many "rigid" office chairs ignore ergonomic aspects, free-float models encourage active sitting including constant changes in posture.

Similar-swing mechanism
The "swing up" model by Sedus Stoll (www.sedus.de) has a similar-swing mechanism that offers lateral flexibility for tilting the pelvis while sitting. It might sound rather wobbly but in fact it gives the human body an ideal opportunity to combine movement and compensatory stabilisation.

The main features of a dynamic office chair consist in a multitude of different adjustment options, such as sitting height or backrest tilt. These are joined by many moving elements such as the backrest or seat, combined with optimum stabilisation, including for example stabilisation elements integrated in the backrest such as neck supports and/or arm rests. The modern, ergonomic office chair is preferably supplemented by one of the modern concepts such as similar swing, 3D movement or the free-float function.

Sitting, standing and moving
The right office chair is an important step on the way to an active office. But even the best office chair can't prevent the fact that many people meanwhile spend too much time sitting down every day. And so there are other aspects that have to be taken into account. Changing constantly between sitting and standing is also of inestimable value for dynamic work posture in desk workers. Ideally, the office worker should only spend 50% of the time sitting and the other 50% standing or moving. Standing still for too long is not particularly good for the back either, so that it is better for a standing workplace to have a foot support to keep changing posture; this helps to prevent any strain on the back. Another appropriate addition is the combined standing/sitting furniture such as the AGR-certified "muvman" by aeris. It relieves the strain on the back and can be adjusted up and down. It also offers maximum flexibility in keeping the worker moving when both standing and sitting.

This standing/sitting furniture is supported by desks that can be adjusted in height or standing desks, such as those available from officeplus (www.officeplus.de), Sedus Stoll or VS Vereinigten Spezialmöbelfabriken (www.vs-moebel.de) which have been awarded the AGR seal of approval. They are quickly and easily adapted to a standing position. The constant change between a standing and sitting work posture relieves the pressure on the back and the joints, automatically reducing the frequency of tension and strains.

Not to be underestimated: ergonomic PC input devices
Appropriate PC input devices also play a role in the active office: an unsuitable computer mouse or keyboard can be detrimental to the cervical spine and the joints in the shoulders and hands. Various products by Microsoft (www.microsoft.de/hardware) have been currently awarded the AGR seal of approval and are therefore an ideal addition to the concept of the ergonomic workplace.

Office chairs with seal of approval
For meanwhile nearly 20 years, the Campaign for Healthier Backs has been working at enhancing public awareness for the significance of a healthy back and how to avoid pain and tension. Furthermore, the AGR awards the acknowledged, reliable "certified & recommended" seal of approval to back-friendly everyday products. Although since 2000 employers are expected to fulfil statutory workplace regulations in the interests of the spinal health of their employees, AGR-certified office furniture and equipment goes further in fulfilling medical and ergonomic criteria for making the office workplace more active and back-friendly.

More information about suitable office chairs, desks and PC input devices together with other everyday products awarded the AGR seal of approval can also be found on www.agr-ev.de/en.

In brief
The human body is designed for movement. In the long term, sedentary office work frequently causes posture-related back problems and tension. The Campaign for Healthier Backs shows that this doesn't have to be - with cleverly designed certified concepts for a dynamic work posture and an active office.

1 cf. http://www.aok-business.de/..., accessed 12/08/2014

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