By now, we know that spending too much time sitting down could take years off our life. Several studies have shown that increased periods of time spent sitting down could put us at greater risk of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. You only need to look Online Gambling’s models of future Netflix addicts – red-eyes, washed out pale skin and morbidly overweight bodies – to be put off ever touching base with your sofa again.
But not so fast. The key to good health could lie in the way we choose to sit, rather than how much time we spend in sedentary positions. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at the habits of the Hadza tribe who live in Tanzania, East Africa; a hunter gatherer community who do not use any furniture. It revealed that although the Hadzas spend the same nine to ten hours a day resting as those in the UK typically do, they are less likely to suffer from chronic diseases than those in “industrialised” societies.
Professor David Raichlen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Southern California and the study’s lead author, attributed the Hazda tribe’s good health to the fact that they squat or kneel, rather than sit. This is because when we sit, the muscles in the legs and buttocks switch off. However, squatting keeps those muscles working.
While you may not be ready to ditch that expensive desk chair just yet, squats can be easily incorporated into our daily exercise routines.
“Squatting is a natural movement for us, we are evolved to be comfortable in a squat position, it is a range of motion and comfort we should work hard to maintain or regain if we have lost it,” said Scott Laidler, a film industry personal trainer from London.
This is an idea echoed by Joe Mitton, a personal trainer and founder of MitFitt. He says that he uses squats with “99 per cent of his clients.”
“They’re beneficial because they hit so many muscle groups,” he says. “When you squat, you’re engaging your glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves and ankles. If you’re doing weighted squats, then you’re using your upper body to stabilise the movement, making it a full body workout,” he said.
Indeed, the unexpected health benefits of squatting might just make it the perfect exercise. A 2015 study, presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s conference in San Diego, found that simply breaking up sitting every half an hour with squats and calf raises – standing on a flat surface and lifting your heels to flex your calf muscles until standing on tiptoes – improved blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes.