side effects of bad posture

Is Kneeling Better Than Sitting For Your Back and Health?

[toc]Eating healthy is only the half the battle. You could be on an entirely raw plant-based diet of high ORAC foods, but that would not make up for the detrimental health effects of sitting in front of a computer for 12 or 14 hours a day – which unfortunately – is the life for many of us.

Sure, we may get paid boatloads of cash for doing so, but look at what it’s doing to our posture and health in the process!

We’re not here to give you BS advice like you should exercise more, because you’re plenty smart enough to already know that.

Rather, we look for simple and easy to implement hacks that you can use at the office to improve your health. One of those might be kneeling instead of sitting. Probably not all the time, but at least intermittently.

Columbia University’s study published in 2017 only re-affirmed the danger of being at your desk too long.

Out of nearly 8,000 adults it was found that being on your butt consecutively for one to two hours at a time was linked to higher rates of mortality across the board, regardless of cause. Even when those same people were frequent exercisers outside of work, it didn’t make up for all the time sitting. (12)

The solution they recommended was changing position every 30 minutes, which will require leaving your desk if you only have a traditional chair. Another good option is to get one which has a built-in kneeling capability.

Is kneeling bad for you? Sometimes…

knee x-rayFirst of all this advice is definitely not for everyone. There are pros and cons. Is kneeling bad for you?

If you have healthy knees, it’s perfectly fine so long as you have adequate cushioning underneath.

Though for many people with “carpenter’s knee” or past sports injuries, such as like tears of the ACL or MCL, their knees may not exactly be in stellar shape.

For those men and women, kneeling may be bad for you as it will cause unnecessary pain and possibly even further injury.

Though if you’re kneecaps currently work okay and don’t hurt from kneeling, then this technique is worth a shot. Here are 3 reasons why…

1. Better health by reduced sitting time

Whether it’s due to a sedentary lifestyle or a temporarily sedentary state while you’re stuck at desk all day, being in the same position – any position – for prolonged periods of time is never healthy (only during sleep is that a good thing).

The side effects of being in the same position include:

  • Constipation – Prolonged sitting is a frequent cause of this. In order to work optimally, your digestive tract depends on your body to move periodically (1). It’s the reason why constipation for those in the hospital is such a frequent problem, even when they’re not on opiates or other constipating medicines.
  • Lower back pain – Earlier research from 15 to 20 years ago did not support that sitting could cause this, but some recent research has (2) (3).
  • Increased likelihood of death – That may sound like an extreme statement, but a study involved 17,013 Canadians, 18 to 90 years old, who were monitored for 12 years (4). At the end of that period, 1,832 had died. With the exception of cancer, the amount of sitting and the likelihood of mortality were highly correlated. The last sentence of the study’s conclusion was “physicians should discourage sitting for extended periods.”

typing on laptop at deskThe solution isn’t to use a Japanese kneeling desk for 12 hours a day because then, you’re still in a sedentary position, albeit one different than a seat.

Nor do you want a treadmill desk 12 hours a day, because let’s be honest… for anyone who does real work on a computer, it’s practically impossible to be entirely focused on that crucial task while you’re also walking.

That’s because the electromechanics of walking – AKA gait control – places demand on cognitive centers of the brain. That can interfere with concentration and cognitive performance of other tasks (5).

It’s great to use a treadmill desk some of the time – such as when you’re talking on the phone – but inevitably other times, you really need to focus.

Enter the 3rd option… kneeling. Does it burn more calories? We will address that in a moment. More importantly, it involves changing your position and that forces you to use your back and abdominal muscles differently.

You can’t call it exercise, but the variety of movement changes things up. It’s a little step you can take throughout your workday so you’re not always in the exact same position … do 60 minutes sitting, 30 minutes kneeling, rinse and repeat (and throw a treadmill desk into the rotation if feasible).

2. Good for posture

dating romanceThere have been extensive studies which have consistently found that the opposite gender (or same gender, whichever you prefer) will find you more attractive if you have a better posture (6). So even if you don’t care about health, perhaps that may motivate you to sit up straight!

Plus, both men and ladies prefer being as tall as possible. Bad posture and slouching can shave a little of your height off.

The problem is that it’s difficult to force ourselves to sit properly in a computer chair. We do it when we’re conscious of slouching, but then we get distracted or have to lean forward to squint at something on the screen.

Forcing good posture never seems to work for more than a few minutes. However, the benefits of a kneeling chair may be able to change that.

There was a study several years back that involved 20 people (9 men, 11 women) who were 18 to 35 years old (7). Their lumbar curvature was measured in three different positions:

  • standing
  • sitting on a standard computer chair
  • sitting on an ergonomically designed kneeling chair set at +20 degrees of incline

The curvature of your lower back’s lumbar region is almost always best when standing. When you compare standing vs. sitting, the lumbar curvature is 24 degrees greater.

Kneeling won’t match standing, but it certainly is a lot better than your run your computer chair. The study found a “statistically significant difference” between them, with the chair for kneeling resulting in 7.63 degrees of additional curvature.

Whether you do it with a Jobri jazzy kneeling chair or a cheap one from Ikea or Walmart, chances are virtually any decent model will lead to better posture than what prolonged sitting in an office chair creates (which is a slouched back).

3. Burning more calories

Does kneeling burn more calories than sitting?

There have been a number of studies which have looked at how many calories are burned when standing and if there’s any difference versus sitting or laying down. It turns out there is.

Simply the act of standing burns 1.36 calories per minute (8) (9). Think about it… that’s 81.6 per hour.

Do that for 4 hours extra per day and you’ve already burned 326 calories. That’s actually more than what many people burn during their workout at the gym (sad, but true).

But before you get excited, there’s some bad news…

The media stories citing the 1.36 calories/minute (from the study) fail to take note that the figure is representing in excess of basal metabolic rate, which is literally the bare minimum you burn by simply being alive and existing, while doing absolutely nothing.

The truth is that even the simple act of sitting still burns calories in excess of your basal rate (10). The extra amount consumed depends on the activity:

  • sitting while relaxed: 30 calories/hour
  • sitting while eating: 45
  • sitting while studying: 50
  • sitting while typing rapidly: 70

Pick and choose one and subtract it from the 81.6 per hour from standing and the results are much less impressive… standing ends up being 11.6 to 51.6 excess calories per hour.

However, no one has measured standing AND typing rapidly, or standing AND studying, etc., which based on the pattern, will use more energy.

So while it’s merely a hypothesis, the most accurate answer would be an apples to apples comparison of subtracting 30 (sitting while relaxed) from the 81.6 (standing while relaxed) which would mean about 50 extra calories per hour, not the 81.6.

male and female curling weightsIf you stand for 4 hours extra per day, that means the amount above and beyond your basal metabolic rate is probably more like 200 total (not the 326 you hear others cite).

But how do the excess number of calories burned from kneeling compare to standing?

When it comes to the chairs to kneel with, unfortunately no studies have been done to measure if additional calories are used. Some product reviews by customers have likened it to a “mini core workout” and say they feel it in their thighs and glutes more, but something more quantitative than a “feel” would be nice to know.

Using calculations from the last referenced source, kneeling is the same as relaxed sitting… both burning an excess 30 calories per hour.

That’s bad news, but may not be the final answer.

There is a plethora of research which has looked at kneeling during prayer, since that is one of the few activities where people are inclined to kneel for more than a minute or two at a time, and hence, it’s actually worth measuring.

When it comes to the amount of calories burned from kneeling while praying, that number has been pegged at 68 per hour (11). Now you have yet another reason to give thanks to Jesus.

In conclusion, there are contradictory answers as to if kneeling is better than sitting. Since no one has measured energy expenditure while kneeling at a desk, doing typical office work, we can only guess whether it’s better than doing the same act while sitting.

But what we can say is at worst it’s the same and at best, you may be burning more calories similar to praying on knees. There are no cons, only pros that might result.

While not a quantitative answer, based on the “feel” of many people who do it, they say they feel their thighs, glutes, abs, and lower back muscles being worked (at least relative to what they experience sitting).

Reviews of kneeling chairs

Not surprisingly, some of the best rated chairs are also some of the most expensive.

However, there are plenty of positively reviewed options priced at under $200. This includes the Defy Desk kneeling office chair with wheels and thick cushion.

Jobri Jazzy chair
This is a version of the Jazzy chair without the back. We recommend the one with the back.

If you’re willing to pay a few bucks more than that, then consider the Jazzy Kneeling chair with back. What’s nice about this is that in can serve as both a regular chair and one for kneeling. That means one less piece of furniture to clutter up your office.

It’s also discreet looking (assuming people don’t peep under your desk) so when you’re seated normally, you won’t have to be bombarded with questions of what it is and why you use it (we hate small talk, it’s a waste of time).

The Rolls Royce for your knees?

Famed Norwegian industrial designer Peter Opsvik brought the Variable Balans chair to the market in 1979 and it was considered groundbreaking.

The company which resulted, Varier Furniture, produces what is considered the Rolls Royce for this category.

Variable Balans chair

They have unique versatility. You can kneel, use them as a regular chair (but with better posture), and do subtle rocking to get even more movement.

Varier kneeling chairs can set you back a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars.

However given the fine materials they use, their precision craftsmanship, and the decades of scientific research which goes into them, they are leaps and bounds ahead of an Ikea kneeling chair.

If you’re a high-earning exec, paying a few hundred or even a couple thousand actually makes a lot of sense if it means increased productivity, better health, and less back pain. Plus, these are the type of products that you can probably use for decades. When you amortize the amount paid per year of use, it actually is a bargain. Especially if it saves you trips to chiropractor during that time!