The way that our lives are set up is very conducive for a sedentary lifestyle — we’re always sitting down, at least for most parts of our day.
There are studies upon studies upon studies on the detrimental effects of a sedentary lifestyle on one’s health. It’s been shown to increase the risks of some cancers, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, stroke, type-2 diabetes and it can result in increased feelings of depression and anxiety. The list goes on.
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While regular exercise is one answer to improving your physical activity levels, we don’t always get that right either. So, how can we at least try to be less sedentary when we’re not being physically active at all?
The answer might just be in the conclusion of a recent study that looked at the benefits of opting to squat rather than to sit.
Led by a team of researchers from the University of Southern California, the study suggests that resting positions like squatting and kneeling could help in protecting us against the effects of inactivity. This is because squatting or kneeling involves higher levels of light muscle activity. This is referred to as ‘active rest’.
“We tend to think human physiology is adapted to the conditions in which we evolved,” Prof. David Raichlen, a co-author of the study, said in a statement. “So, we assumed that if inactivity is harmful, our evolutionary history would not have included much time spent sitting the way we do today.”
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How was the study conducted?
For the study, the researchers studied a group of Tanzanian hunter-gatherers called the Hadza. Their lifestyles are similar to the way that people lived in the past.
They’re said to be sedentary for about nine to 10 hours a day, which is similar to humans in more industrialised and developed countries.
While this is the case, they didn’t have the markers of chronic diseases associated with long periods of sitting. Why? Their go-to resting posture — either squatting or kneeling — has somewhat nullified the effects of their inactivity.
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“Even though there were long periods of inactivity, one of the key differences we noticed is that the Hadza are often resting in postures that require their muscles to maintain light levels of activity — either in a squat or kneeling position,” Raichlen said.
“Being a couch potato, or even sitting in an office chair, requires less muscle activity than squatting or kneeling. Since light levels of muscle activity require fuel, which generally means burning fat, then squatting and kneeling postures may not be as harmful as sitting in chairs.”
When sitting on a chair, the only time your leg muscles are activated is when your knees bend to land on the seat — and then nothing after that until you stands again.
“Replacing chair sitting and associated muscular inactivity with more sustained active rest postures may represent a behavioural paradigm that should be explored in future experimental work,” the study concluded.
Raichlen does however note the unlikeliness of people swapping out chairs for squatting, but says that we should still consider the bigger picture of the idea.
“Squatting is not a likely alternative, but spending more time in postures that at least require low-level muscle activity could be good for our health.”