By now most of us have heard that sitting is the new smoking, but what you might not know is that not all sitting is created equally.

If you’re like most Americans, you spend more than seven hours of your day sitting. Even the most active of us have to sit in traffic on the way to the gym, while checking emails or researching healthy recipes. If you’re a serious athlete, minimizing the damage from improper sitting is especially important.  Investing in an ergonomic chair may be the key to saving your back and joints from pain and keep you competition-ready.

Choosing A Chair

“The key is to opt for a chair that has a lot of adjustability,” says Sue Hitzmann, MS, CST, NMT and creator of the MELT Method. “This means that it not only goes up and down, but can also be tilted forward and back, and has an adjustable back pad for lumbar support.”

The options on the market and the price differences can be overwhelming. “When it comes to price it’s mostly about the brand names: just like you pay more for the label on a pair of jeans, you are going to pay more for recognized brands,” explains Hitzmann.

The first thing you need to look at is the quality of the materials.“When buying ask what type of foam is used in the seat part. Just like the stuffing in a couch, open cell foam will compress over time and won’t last.” Look for a seat made of a mixture of foam and gel or fabric type materials that should last longer. And don’t forget to check out the back.  “I find that a back made of mesh rather than plastic is much more comfortable on my spine,” adds Hitzmann.  When it comes to wheels, avoid ones made of cheap plastic because they’ll crack and break with body weight. Opt for ones made of solid metal instead. 

Most importantly, however, SIT in the chair. While it’s tempting to click and buy one of the many options available at e-retailers like Amazon, it’s worth the time to stop by a store. Herman Miller is considered a top player in the ergonomic space or try a multi-brand store like Design Within ReachSince you’re likelier to find a better deal online, you may want to buy there once you’ve tried and tested a few options in-store.

Sitting The Right Way

There is a right and a wrong way to sit. The right way to sit, according to Hitzmann, is upright with your feet flat on the floor –  not on the legs of the chair, not on your forefoot with your heels up.  If you tend to cross your legs, sit with your leg folded under your butt instead.

“Try to remember cheek bones over collar bones, ears over shoulders. Make sure that the height of your chair matches the desk you are sitting at. This means if you type on a desktop computer your elbows are at a 90-degree angle, level with the table. Sitting this way will greatly reduce neck pain. 

Finally,  it’s important to stand-up as often as possible (at least every hour, even if only for a few seconds). Use your breaks to do some stretches.

Need some ideas for breaking up your sitting time? Read On:

Coffee Break Stretches That Work Your Abs, Glutes, and Quads

5 Minute Yoga

5 Exercises To Loosen Up Tight Hips and Backs