Health experts agree that Americans are spending way too much time on their backsides. Prolonged sitting, and the sedentary lifestyle that goes along with it, has been linked to heart disease and a decreased range of mobility. To counteract this problem, the health conscious got on their own two feet, with standing desks taking over offices and fitness trackers giving us kudos for standing regularly throughout the day. But some experts claim we should embrace squatting instead, and that doing so may counteract the negative health effects that both sitting and standing can cause.
Squatting is actually quite old; so old, in fact, that it's often considered primitive. To clarify, we're not talking about the fitness type of squatting in which exercisers bang out multiple reps at the gym. Those exercises are good for building leg and butt strength, but they're not the same as the deep squatting movement that many of us gave up when we left childhood.
Take a look around any playground and you'll see what we're talking about. Kids squat while they play as a way to rest in between games or even just to take a closer look at the world beneath their feet. Yet outside of a yoga studio, you're unlikely to see anyone over the age of 10 hanging out in a squat position.
"If you've ever watched a toddler play, they squat easily and often," Dr. Jasmine Marcus, a physical therapist with McCune and Murphy Physical Therapy in Ithaca, New York, told MNN. "As we age, we stop performing this motion and tend to lose hip, knee and ankle range of motion."
'A fundamental movement'
In many parts of the world, squatting is a common posture used when cooking, eating, birthing and relieving oneself. But its reputation as a primitive posture — along with the invention of modern appliances, furniture and bathroom facilities — has turned most Western adults off squatting. And that's a mistake that could have negative consequences for our health.
"Squatting is a fundamental movement that every human being is designed to do," Rui Li, a certified personal trainer with New York Personal Training, told MNN. "But due to a combination of weakness and immobility from a lifetime of wearing restrictive footwear and sitting in a chair, many of us in urban industrialized societies have lost the ability to squat properly."
Why is squatting so good for us?
"Squatting regularly and properly can help improve range of motion and strengthen muscles throughout the lower body including the gluteals," says Marcus. Flexibility and range of motion may not seem like such a big deal. But remember that sitting test that we were obsessed with a few years ago that claimed to pinpoint how long you had to live? By using the test on 2,000 of his 50 or older patients, Brazilian physician Claudio Gil Araujo showed that flexibility and range of motion were good indicators of longevity. And we all want to live longer, right?
Should we throw out our office chairs and standing desks and aim to spend our days squatting? Thankfully, no. The key to good health is movement and that means not staying in any one position for too long.
"If you are able to squat in good form and without pain, try squatting for a few minutes at a time," says Marcus. So get up out of your chair and squat while you stretch, or play with your kids or watch TV. Your muscles, joints and heart will thank you for it.