Inactivity is the new smoking and is linked to heart disease and cancer, but we can learn from kids and modern hunter-gatherers to make sitting less dangerous
8 January 2020
When it comes to sitting properly, we all know the drill – even if we don’t follow it to the letter. No slouching or crossed legs, buttocks touching the back of the chair and feet on the ground. But even if you are doing it right, sitting for long periods is shockingly bad for you. It has been described as the new smoking, linked to heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. There is no doubt we should all try to do less of it. But perhaps we could also do it better.
Chances are you view sitting as synonymous with chairs. This is a peculiarly Western perspective. A classic survey, published in 1953, described 100 different sitting postures adopted by 480 cultures around the world. Among the most common were sitting cross-legged, kneeling and the deep squat, with feet flat on the ground and buttocks resting on or just above it. Even in Western cultures, these are preferred sitting positions among young children. But Westerners tend to enforce chair use from an early age, strapping toddlers into buggies and insisting children sit on seats in school.
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“We might take inspiration on how to sit from traditional cultures like the Hadza”
One big problem with this passion for chairs is that they make sitting so, well, sedentary. Consider the Hadza, a hunter-gatherer people in Tanzania. They spend around 9 hours a day sitting. However, they squat and sit on the ground in various positions, …