How you rest matters: squatting or kneeling are healthier resting position than sitting

Sitting for hours a day is linked to many health risks, including cardiovascular disease, likely because it involves low muscle activity and low muscle metabolism.  A USC-led team has shown that resting postures such as squatting and kneeling involve higher levels of muscle activity then chair-sitting, and these more active rest postures may help protect people from the harmful effects of modern sedentary lifestyle.

To better understand the evolution of sedentary behaviors, the USC scientists studied inactivity in a group of Tanzanian hunter-gatherers, Hadza, who have a lifestyle that is similar in some ways with how humans lived in the past.  For the study, Hadza participants wore devices that measured physical activity and periods of rest. The scientists found that they had high levels of physical activity — over three times as much as the 22 minutes per day advised by U.S. federal health guidelines.

But the scientists also found that they had high levels of inactivity.  In fact, Hadza are sedentary for about as much time — around 9 to 10 hours per day — as humans in more developed countries. However, they appear to lack the markers of chronic diseases that are associated, in industrialized societies, with long periods of sitting. 

The reason for this different may lie in how Hasza rest – they are often resting in postures that require their muscles to maintain light levels of activity — either in a squat or kneeling. The researchers measured muscle activity in the lower limbs in different resting postures.  Squatting and kneeling involved more muscle activity compared to sitting.

Because the Hadza squat and kneel, they may have more consistent muscle activity throughout the day. This could reduce the health risks associated with sedentary behavior.  Since light levels of muscle activity require fuel (meaning burning fats), squatting and kneeling postures are healthier resting posture than sitting in chairs.

What’s the take home message? when resting, try to use kneeling position (if squatting position is too uncomfortable).  Better yet, stay active for at least 45 minutes per day to keep disease away.

Thanks for reading.

Journal Reference: David A. Raichlen, Herman Pontzer, Theodore W. Zderic, Jacob A. Harris, Audax Z. P. Mabulla, Marc T. Hamilton, Brian M. Wood. Sitting, squatting, and the evolutionary biology of human inactivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2020; 201911868 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1911868117

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