New research shows that squatting during downtime benefits your lymphatic system, circulation, breathing, and more. Learn how a simple postural change can transform your life.
Americans Need to Stop Sitting and Start Squatting (or Standing)
You’ve likely heard that being sedentary takes years off your life. Yet, most Westerners are sedentary for almost nine hours a day.
Surprisingly, this is the same amount of time our hunter-gatherer ancestors were sedentary, according to a 2020 study published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The PNAS researchers also looked at the current day Tazmanian Hadza hunter-gatherers, and found that they rest for nine hours a day and it hasn’t led to any chronic ailments, as it has in the U.S., where studies have linked sitting to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, muscle degeneration, dementia, depression, and back pin.
So what makes American sitting different from Hadza downtime?
The difference is not how long we’re sedentary each day, it’s HOW we’re sendentary. The Hadza spend most of their sedentary time in an active rest, squatting, while Westerners spend most of their downtime passively in a chair.
The study concluded that when you sit in a chair, your muscles are fully relaxed, decreasing muscle metabolism. The Hadza avoided this by squatting, instead of sitting, which involves high levels of muscle contraction.
See also Top 10 Ayurvedic Life Hacks
The Benefits of Squatting
It turns out we are evolutionary mismatched to sit passively for nine hours a day. Humans are more evolutionarily adapted to be active, even while resting, which is why squatting is the resting posture of choice.
The Benefits of Squatting for Your Lymphatic System
From the Ayurvedic and Western perspectives, the muscular contractions of the lower limbs and torso that happen when you squat force lymphatic circulation. Sitting in a chair for hours while muscles are turned off inhibits adequate lymphatic circulation. The lymphatic system, which is the largest circulatory system of the body, has innumerable responsibilities but none more important than:
- Carrying the immune system
- Circulating toxic material out of the body
- Delivering fatty acids as baseline energy for every cell
Periods of sitting can compromise lymphatic circulation, allowing toxic material to pool. Poor lymphatic circulation also inhibits adequate nutrient delivery. According to Ayurveda, the study of lymph (rasa) is called rasayana, which is also the study of longevity.
The Benefits of Squatting for Your Breathing
During the short 5,000 year history of chairs, it’s only been recently that they’ve been used by the masses. For most of their history, chairs were reserved for kings, queens, and the elite, while commoners got used to squatting—and lived longer for it!
Let’s also not forget that humans have roamed this planet for some 200,000 years and for most of those, they spent their downtime squatting. To this day, the vast majority of people on this planet (most of Asia and Africa) still squat instead of sit. In India, the locals eat, play, chat, read, work and rest in a squatting position.
Sitting or slouching on the couch is a postural challenge for optimal breathing. As you sit or, even worse, slouch, your rib cage flexes forward pushing your diaphragm into a downward (pre-contracted) position and making it difficult to take full inhalations and exhalations. Long periods of sitting force you to breathe more shallowly since you’re left using the less efficient upper lobes of your lungs. To exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide effectively, we must breathe into the lower lobes of the lungs, which requires the diaphragm to fully contract and relax (not possible when you’re slouched).
If You Can’t Squat, Stand
Possibly because of years of sitting, many Westerners don’t actually have the strength and flexibility to squat. The good news is that there is ample research touting the benefits of standing instead of sitting.
In a 2021 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, researchers found that the more time study subjects spent standing, the better balanced their insulin and blood sugar were. Standing supported healthier metabolism regardless of how fit they were, how much activity they engaged in daily, or what they weighed.
When and How to Squat (or Stand)
These seven tips will help you limit the time you sit. Your health will thank you!
- Watch TV standing or squatting, or both.
- Stand or squat after a meal.
- Stand while waiting for a bus or plane, or on the phone—any chance you get!
- Yup—Stand up desks work!
- Get a walking treadmill or exercise bike for your living room and watch your movies while using one of these machines.
- Get outside and walk, or do yard work.
- If you can’t squat, stand. If you can’t stand for long periods of time, walk!