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Integrative Health
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Forget Sitting: Here's Why You Should Squat & Kneel For Your Health

Woman Squatting Down Beside a Green Wall
Image by Guille Faingold / Stocksy
March 9, 2020
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We spend a lot of time sitting. One 2008 study estimated Americans spend on average nearly eight hours seated, every single day.

To mitigate some of the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle (like heart disease1), some have opted for standing desks or taking a lap around the office every hour. But a new study from the University of Southern California has given us something else to consider when it comes to resting postures.

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According to their research, squatting and kneeling may be beneficial resting positions for our overall well-being. Here's what they found.

Taking lessons from the Hadza in Tanzania.

Researchers wanted to look at sedentary behavior and how it's evolved over time, so they looked at a group of Tanzanian hunter-gatherers, called the Hadza, whose lifestyles today are pretty old-fashioned compared to the Western world.

Using devices that measured both physical activity and resting time, it was found that the Hadza had activity levels as much as three times higher than the States' federal health guideline of 22 minutes a day. But they had pretty high levels of inactivity, too. With an average of nine to 10 hours of sedentary time—no less than you might see in more developed countries—how is it that the Hadza have significantly lower risk for chronic disease?

The answer seems to have something to do with resting positions like squatting or kneeling and how much muscle activity is involved in each.

Reducing sedentary time.

Based on special equipment that measured muscle activity in the lower limbs, the researchers studied the effects of squatting and kneeling compared to sitting and found they involved more muscles than sitting. So, between the higher activity level and "resting" positions that aren't actually fully resting, this could explain the lower risk of disease.

"Even though there were long periods of inactivity, the Hadza are often resting in postures that require their muscles to maintain light levels of activity," explains professor and researcher David Raichlen, Ph.D. "Being a couch potato—or even sitting in an office chair—requires less muscle activity. Since light levels of muscle activity require fuel, which generally means burning fats, then squatting and kneeling postures may not be as harmful as sitting in chairs."

As such, the researchers hope "more sustained active rest postures" will become more commonplace. And while you may not be able to squat or kneel at work, Raichlen says spending more time in postures that "at least require some low-level muscle activity" is a good place to start (like a chair that requires a little extra balance).

If you don't want to kneel, here are some tangible ways to mitigate the negative effects of sitting.

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