One of the most effective (and easiest) behaviours you can do to improve and maintain your physical function is…spend time sitting on the floor.
Why? Because it puts you in natural (and stable) positions, it makes you move frequently, and it forces you to practise getting down to the floor and back up again (a skill for life).
In their excellent book, Built to Move, Kelly and Juliet Starrett explain that sitting in a chair puts all the weight of your upper body on your hamstrings and femurs, while the balls of your femurs rest in one position in the sockets of your pelvis (which turns out to be a very unstable position). To compensate for the lack of stability, and to keep you upright, your body uses the long muscles in your back and legs. If you sit in a chair for long periods of time (which most of us do), these muscles are constantly activated, and they remain activated when you stand up and engage in other activities. This leads to lower back, hip, and knee pain.
By contrast, sitting cross-legged on the floor means you externally rotate your hips to their end range and create a stable base on which your upper body can rest.
But it’s not just stability. You get other benefits from sitting on the floor:
- It’s far less comfortable, which means you change positions more often
- It takes effort, which means you burn more calories
- It means you have to get down to the floor and back up again (being able to do this without using your hands is a good measure of overall mobility)
Sitting on the floor for even brief periods can help to counteract the negative effects of chair sitting. And the best thing is, you don’t have to carve out any additional time in your day – you can do it while watching TV, or eating breakfast, or speaking on the phone.
About 30 minutes a day is sufficient. But start with 5. Try different positions, including cross-legged, legs straight out in front, or any other position without support.