In the western world, we spend most of our time sitting. We eat all our meals sitting down. We travel to work, possibly in a car or on a train, sitting down, and often work at our desks sitting down. We come home to watch Netflix, again while sitting down. It's small wonder all this sitting down is said to be killing us.
However, we can work to redress the balance by looking at other cultures, who more commonly squat or kneel rather than sit. This deep squat position requires (and promotes) a degree of flexibility in your hips, making it one of the best stretching exercises you can do if you're a habitual sitter.
Researchers from the University of Southern California (opens in new tab) examined a group of Tanzanian hunter-gatherers, the Hadza, who were asked to wear devices like a fitness tracker that measured physical activity and periods of rest. The researchers found the Hadza members did a lot of physical activity, at least an hour each day, but were often as sedentary as we are, resting up to 10 hours per day. However, none of the Hadza had the precursors of chronic diseases associated with a sedentary life, like metabolic syndrome and prediabetes.
The researchers theorise this is because the Hadza don't often sit about on chairs. Instead, they squat down or kneel, a position which allows the body to rest, but still encourages flexibility and uses our muscles to keep us upright. The scientists found squatting uses a lot more muscle activity than sitting on a chair, allowing the Hadza to stay healthy at rest.
Holding a deep squat position, like the one above, will provide much more activity in your back, hips and legs, undoing some of the damage of a sedentary lifestyle. IN addition, you'll be limber enough to sit down on the floor and stand up quickly, which is associated with a longer life according to Brazilian researchers (opens in new tab).
While it's obviously very impractical to do this at work, this is something you can work on at home while watching your streaming service of choice. Instead of jumping on the sofa, get in some comfortable clothes and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, then crouch down. You'll likely just be on the balls of your feet, but it's fine to touch the floor for balance. If this position is painful to hold for any length of time, try "sets" of 30 seconds.
Eventually, you'll be able to get your feet flat on the floor while crouching all the way down, loosening your hips, and stay there for minutes at a time while watching TV. This very simple exercise will give your muscles a workout, undo the damage of sitting at your desk all day, increase your mobility and live longer.
You can, of course, add to this by doing lower-body resistance training to further develop your core, glutes, quads and thighs. Learning how to do squats with just your bodyweight, you can graduate afterwards to holding adjustable dumbbells or doing barbell squats in the gym.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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