At home, when commuting to work, and at the office. We sit for hours every day and we are paying a price for it. Not only is inactivity a real muscle killer, it has also been shown that prolonged sitting increases the probability of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. What’s worse, it seems that exercise alone might not fully reverse the impact of sitting. The reason? Human physiology is just not well adapted to prolonged periods of inactivity.
Meet The Hadza
That is the conclusion that evolutionary anthropologists Herman Pontzer and David Raichlen reached after years of studying the habits of members of the Hadza community of Tanzania, one of the last populations of hunter-gatherers in the world. The Hadza are remarkably healthy and much less prone to heart disease and other health conditions plaguing the industrialized world. So Pontzer and Raichlen set out to understand why.
Activity Is Important. But How You Rest Might Be Just As Critical.
As expected, the Hadza are quite active during the day. However, Pontzer and Raichlen were surprised to find that the Hadza spend nearly the same number of hours resting as people in industrialized countries. They found the difference to be in how they do it.
Even today, the Hadza don’t use chairs although they are perfectly capable of making them. Instead, Hadza of all ages spend much of their resting time in a deep squat, heels to the ground with their bottoms resting on their ankles. When they aren’t squatting, the Hadza rest by kneeling on the floor.
It turns out that by keeping the body balanced on your feet, you require between 5 to 10 times as much muscle activity as sitting in a chair or on the ground. After analyzing much data, Ponzter and Raichlen concluded that “the use of ‘active resting’ postures, like squatting and kneeling, might maintain enough muscle activity to prevent triglyceride build up and avoid disease.” In this context, the negative effect of sitting makes perfect sense: “our physiology never experienced long periods of quiet muscles, so our bodies never evolved a protective response.”
What To Do?
Unless you are very flexible, adopting the Hadza resting style might not comfortable (or even achievable). However, what youcando today is improve your cardiovascular health by sitting less, or more concretely, by breaking up your sitting into shorter bouts. This will increase muscle activity throughout the day. One (free!) way to do this? Set an alarm on your phone to alert you every half hour or hour: time to switch it up between sitting and standing! Take a few steps, do a quick stretch, and maybe try to use (or mimic) a standing desk for a while, until the alarm goes off again.
You can find their complete researchhere.