Squat or kneel instead of sitting to protect your health, study finds © David A. Raichlen/University of Southern California

Squat or kneel instead of sitting to protect your health, study finds

The findings come from data gathered from a hunter-gatherer population in Tanzania.

  • Squatting or kneeling seems to be better for your health than sitting, a study on the Hadza people of Tanzania has found.
  • The Hadza people don’t suffer from health condition associated with a sedentary lifestyle, despite being inactive for up to 10 hours per day.
  • The researchers believe that the light muscle movements used when squatting or kneeling help to protect them against the harmful effects of inactivity.
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Resting postures such as squatting or kneeling may be better for health because require more muscle activity than sitting on a chair, researchers claim.

The findings are based on data gathered from a hunter-gatherer population in Tanzania who wore devices that measured physical activity as well as periods of rest.

Members of the Hazda hunter-gatherer population in Tanzania © David A. Raichlen/University of Southern California
Members of the Hadza hunter-gatherer population in Tanzania © David A. Raichlen/University of Southern California

Anthropologists from the US found that despite being sedentary for almost 10 hours each day, equivalent to clocking a shift in the office at the desk, the Hadza people appeared to lack the markers of chronic diseases associated with long periods of sitting. They believe this is down to the “active rest postures” used by the tribe.

Dr David Raichlen, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and lead author on the study, said: “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.”

Read more about inactivity:

Prolonged sitting has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death, but according to the researchers, this contradicts the evolutionary aspect which favours strategies that conserve energy.

Brian Wood, an anthropologist at the University of California, and one of the study authors, said: “Preferences or behaviours that conserve energy have been key to our species’ evolutionary success. But when environments change rapidly, these same preferences can lead to less optimal outcomes. Prolonged sitting is one example.”

To find out more, the researchers looked at the data from 28 Hadza adults who wore devices, known as accelerometers, for eight days and compared it with the information gathered from previous studies that measured inactivity in modern working populations.

© David A Raichlen/University of Southern California
© David A Raichlen/University of Southern California

They found that their test subjects had high levels of physical activity for just over an hour a day alongside several hours of inactivity, between nine to 10 hours a day. But despite remaining in resting postures for long periods of time, the Hadza people did not show any signs of the health conditions associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

The researchers said is because the Hadza squatting and kneeling uses more muscle movement than sitting on a chair. They believe these active rest postures may help “protect people from the harmful effects of inactivity”.

Read more about exercise:

Dr 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 fats, then squatting and kneeling postures may not be as harmful as sitting in chairs.”

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The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Is my chair killing me?

Sixty years ago, researchers found that bus drivers had twice as many heart attacks as bus conductors. The difference was that the conductor was on his feet all day, whereas the driver was sitting down.

Nowadays, adults in the UK commonly spend seven or more hours a day sitting down, and this tends to increase as people get older. Long periods of sitting are typically associated with an inactive lifestyle, which is a risk factor for heart disease, dementia and diabetes.

It’s a vicious cycle because the collagen around your tendons and ligaments tends to harden when the joints aren’t moving, and the postural muscles around your trunk gradually get weaker. This reduces your flexibility and makes you more likely to strain your back or shoulders when you bend or lift.

Without the need to support your weight, your leg bones become more porous and blood tends to pool in your ankles, which can lead to varicose veins and even deep vein thrombosis (dangerous blood clots in your veins).

The good news is that a 2016 analysis of studies of over a million people found that you can completely counter the negative effects of a desk job by doing 60 to 75 minutes of moderate physical exercise every day. Standing or walking during meetings and standing while talking on the phone are both good ways to start reducing your daily sitting time.

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