Sitting can be too comfortable. How, and how long, you sit have health implications.

Sitting for long periods has been statistically linked to all kinds of bad body vibe. Fortunately, statistics is acausal. Unfortunately, sitting too long is bad for you. Our bodies are built for frequent movement to maintain health.

Sitting in chairs has a decidedly Western cultural heritage. There are at least 100 distinct sitting postures which have been adopted by 480 cultures worldwide.

Among the most common forms of sitting are cross-legged, kneeling, and the deep squat, with feet flat on the ground and the butt just above or resting on the ground. Even in Western cultures, these are the sitting positions young children prefer. But Westerners tend to enforce chair use from an early age: strapping toddlers into buggies and insisting children sit on seats in school.

The problem with chairs, which are fully supportive, is that they make sitting too sedentary. The Hadza, a hunter-gatherer people in Tanzania, spend ~9 hours a day sitting. But they squat and sit on the ground in various positions, using significant muscular activity.

Another problem with conventional chairs is the toll they take on the spine. When standing, our backs naturally have an S-shaped curve. But when sitting in a chair, many curve their spine into a C shape, compressing their spinal disks. “Normal chairs tend to flatten the lower part of the back, which puts more pressure on it,” explains Maltan physiotherapist Josette Bettany-Saltikov.

The best sitting support are kneeling chairs or using a stool with a saddle seat. Both keep the spine in a better position, as does squatting.

The cardinal rule of sitting remains: don’t do it for too long at a time.


Alison George, “Discover how to sit to dodge the dangers of inactivity,” New Scientist (8 January 2020).