Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner says that people living in Okinawa, Japan, keep furniture to a minimum in their homes, so they naturally do most of their sitting on the floor. And, he says, the health benefits are evident. "The longest-lived women in the history of the world lived in Okinawa, and I know from personal experience that they sat on the floor," he says. "I spent two days with a 103-year-old woman and saw her get up and down from the floor 30 or 40 times, so that's like 30 or 40 squats done daily."
Some researchers wouldn't be surprised to learn that a woman who is able to repeatedly stand up from a seated position on the floor has lived to be (at least)102 years old, as they claim that your ability to stand up from a seated, cross-legged position without using any of your limbs (known as the sitting-rising test) is a good marker of your longevity. A study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology suggests that those least able to complete this movement were five or six times more likely to die than those who were best able to complete the task.
“It is well known that aerobic fitness is strongly related to survival, but our study also shows that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscle strength, power-to-body weight ratio and co-ordination are not only good for performing daily activities, but have a favorable influence on life expectancy,” the study's lead researcher, Claudio Gil Araújo, said in a press release.
Moving from a seated position on the floor to one standing, multiple times per day, strengthens the core muscles and works balance, both of which can improve and extend your overall muscular-skeletal fitness and mobility. It can also help prevent you from falling down when you're older, which is one of the top causes of unintentional-injury-related death for those over 65. "Another huge benefit is when you are able to sit down and stand back up from the floor with relative ease, it’s a wonderful sign of overall structural, skeletal health and muscular balance and alignment," says body alignment specialist Lauren Roxburgh.
Many of us have been sedentary for too much time, she says, and in likely less-than-ergonomic environments. "Getting out of your chair and sitting cross-legged onto the floor can help realign your body, center your sitz bones, and engage your core stability—improving strength, natural flexibility and overall movement," she says.
With that said, Roxburgh notes that if you're going to engage in floor-sitting, it's important to pay attention to your posture. "Avoid slouching, which can increase pressure and lower back pain," she says. "Make sure you also keep your weight centered over your hips so you reduce the pressure in your ankles and feet." In her opinion, the best way to sit on the floor for optimal alignment is by sitting on a cushion, the edge of a folded blanket, or a soft, squishy ball. "This helps raise your hips slightly for better alignment."
Nobody is saying you need to spend the entire day on the floor, though Buettner does advocate for buying lower furniture, or getting rid of a few pieces of furniture altogether. Fortunately for those who aren't going to clear out their homes of seating anytime soon, however, Roxburgh says it's most important just to mix it up. "The key to longevity, staying flexible, fluid, and maintaining a healthy body is to create continual postural shifts throughout the day [as you're able]," she says. "So sitting on the floor and periodically doing long, deep squats are a great way to boost circulation, blood flow, and energy, increase flexibility and range of motion, create space and build some deeper awareness of your body while helping you feel grounded."
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