Hay’s Daze: Sitting on the edge of your seat

Are you sitting down? If you are, this juicy little factoid may knock you right off your chair: A lot of sitting is directly correlated to a lot of mortality. In other words, according to many experts the more you sit, the sooner you are going to tip over. And I don’t mean “tip over” in your chair onto the floor, I mean “tip over” in the sense of “experience your untimely demise.”

And apparently the same research shows that going to a gym to compensate for all those hours sitting doesn’t actually work. It’s all about bad posture, according to Dr. Galen Cranz, Professor of Architecture, University of California. She was on a radio podcast this week I happened to hear when I was driving around whilst sitting. I find that it’s difficult to drive a vehicle when you’re not sitting, so I was feeling a little guilty when she remarked: “When someone says, ‘Have a seat’ they are wishing you death.”

Cranz is the author of the 1998 seminal work on chairs (if there can be such a thing) called “The Chair – Rethinking Culture, Body & Design” which claims that the configuration of the human body does not sit well in most chair designs. Her findings gave rise to such ideas as bean bag chairs, kneeling chairs, standing desks and unsuccessful attempt at personal levitation. So she was far ahead of her time – long before the rest of the world finally got on the upright bandwagon and proclaimed that “Sitting is the new smoking.”

In fact, Dr. Cranz not only walks the walk and talks the talk, she sits the sit. She happily goes through life avoiding sitting. She sidesteps chairs like the proverbial plague, preferring instead to stand up or lie down. How serious is the professor? She relates a story of how she was in a long lineup at a bank, got tired of waiting and laid down on the floor. She says (with a hearty laugh) that people came over to her to see if she was having a heart attack and she politely informed them she was “just resting.” Apparently Prof. Cranz truly believes avoiding sitting is much healthier than avoiding gathering germs and other cooties from dirty public floors. Now that’s commitment!

And not only that – Cranz claims there is another problem in our world. The table. Also, the desk. She calls any flat surface we sit at as “sitting’s devious accomplice” in unhealthiness. Sitting at a desk or table forces us to bend or slump forward, which puts the head off kilter and curves the spine. (This is why I like to do all my work and eating etc. whilst laying on a comfy couch.)

But the good doctor (PhD.) does have some practical advice, other than lying down in banks. Sitting for three hours or less per day seems to be okay (so now we have a good excuse to use that stop watch feature on our cell phones). Use a stool instead of a chair – halfway between sitting and standing is a good thing (as long as you don’t tip over. In the sense of actually falling over.) The best kind of chair is a “lounge chair” with a long leg rest and adjustable back. And if you must sit in a regular death-inducing chair, sit on the edge of your seat.

And if that wasn’t enough for personal posture progress, Ms. Cranz has more advice: Squat. “Squatting is really healthy!” she exclaims. I’ll have to take her word for it – when it comes to squatting, I know diddly-squat.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer writer and filmmaker.

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