Moving Naturally…Off Your Bum

ChairsFolks, I hate to break it to you, but we’re a nation of chair sitters. You know this already, you don’t need me to tell you. But you do need me to tell you why we shouldn’t give in to the siren song of the sitting position.

Think about your day. Chances are, it looks something like this: bed –> chair to eat –> sitting in your car –> your chair at a desk at work –> back to your car –> dinner table –> evening on the couch. Amiright?! If you’re someone who works on your feet all day (healthcare, restaurant, retail, etc. workers), I bet you had no idea you were so lucky. I, myself, spend way too much time on my duff at home typing stuff like this that doesn’t even pay me for the privilege of wrecking my health and my derriere.

At my recent MovNat Costa Rica retreat, I learned a lot about posture and body positioning. Luckily, I have a pretty decent deep squat which means I haven’t completely wrecked my anatomy. But it got me thinking. On my way home, as I people-watched in the San Jose Costa Rica airport, I scanned the crowds identifying all the chair sitters. Almost everyone. And I have to count my own pancake butt among them.

I understand that appearances aren’t everything, but you can, in fact, tell a lot about a person by physical markers (I talk a little about this here). For example, the modern phenomenon that is the female “muffin top”—that roll of extra flesh above the waistline—that we see poking out over today’s low-rise jeans is indeed novel to the human form. Female clothes as they were tailored in the 1950s simply wouldn’t accommodate a muffin top because that wasn’t where women put their fat, it usually deposited in typical areas like the butt and thighs. I hear you, I hear you! You’re crying about genetics. Genetics lays the blueprint for where we will carry fat, but it doesn’t determine whether or not you will actually put fat in those places. That’s all up to lifestyle choices.

Everyday, we send signals to our bodies. For example, if you were to rupture your Achilles tendon on your right leg and have surgery with several months of recovery, it would likely affect your body for the rest of your life without significant physical therapy. Your body has to accommodate the injury and those effects ripple throughout your entire body. There are many channels of communication into a human body, including but not limited to: diet, exercise, sleep, stress, sex, socialization, environmental toxins, sunshine. In turn, these signals help determine our outputs, including but not limited to: exercise, work/school performance, fertility, immune system responses, general health and wellness. Viewed through this lens, there’s no denying we are a nation of chair sitters. It’s written all over our behinds.

That looks like it might tickle…

I’ve talked about how I want a bigger butt, but it might seem like a vain pursuit without some context (even though I fully admit to the vanity of said pursuit). But why is the vanity attached to a bigger, rounder fanny? If we look to our good friend evolution, it probably has to do with sex which probably has to do with survival. Right? A set of big, round, luscious glutes sends a signal that it is used properly. That it can generate power, that the skeleton is supported and held together. That the owner of those glutes is healthy and capable. What self-respecting dude wouldn’t want his kids to have the same?

All well and good. But the studies out on sitting right now are pretty clear that merely exercising for an hour a day will not counteract the damage done. Especially since most people exercise in ways that are quad dominant and in one plane (namely forward), forgetting to exercise the poor neglected parts of our bodies that we can’t see in the mirror. This takes some conscious retraining. For the bulk of a day, we’re telling our bodies that supporting its own weight isn’t important, that the nerves, muscles, ligaments, and tendons aren’t needed. Trust me folks, they’re hearing us loud and clear.

So as I people-watched, I got a bit depressed. Not just at the state of our collective rumps, but also at the sheer futility of it all. I don’t want a life defined by sitting, but that’s what I have. I have a standing desk that I need to use more often and I need to prioritize movement somehow everyday. But even then, there’s a certain cultural trajectory with its own expectations that finds me sitting on my poor posterior more often than I’d like.

Much of our success as a species on this planet has to do with our brain development. We didn’t have brawn on our side and we certainly couldn’t outrun most of our predators, but we became smart, wily, dastardly creatures and we banded together to increase our odds. The last century has seen an exponential rise in brain usage versus physical expenditure. All of our ancestors used to cut down trees, raise barns, dig, lift, carry, and when they were done doing so for themselves, they helped their neighbors with it for fun. Now, we outsource it and pay for someone else to do it while we drive to our jobs and sit on our tushes. And the people who do perform the physical labor are devalued by our culture, getting paid less than those pushing paper and typitty-typing on a keyboard dealing in abstractions like pivot charts and supply-chain logistics. We send millions of people to college every year to sink deep into debt on the very premise that a degree will save them from the horrors of physical labor.

Hmm...chairs are ubiquitous, aren't they?

Hmm…not exactly the farming I had in mind.

I’m heartened a bit by the trend in farming as a viable and honorable tradition again. In my area, I see young people interning on local farms in the hopes of someday working their own plot of land. But I think it’s time we value the fruit of our labors again, to encourage the younger generations to consider physical pursuits and practical skills. Have I mentioned that plumbers make, on average, double per hour what I make as a writer? And yet, who sounds more glamorous when asked at a dinner party what they do?

But still I’m left with a problem. The reason we are a nation of sitters is because we are a nation of sitters. The only way to stop being a nation of sitters is to stop being a nation of sitters. To accomplish that, we would have to rearrange the very foundation of our lives to value movement and physical labor over the effluence of our minds. Because this hour allotted to “working out” ain’t working for me. It makes movement optional, quaint, and just another task to be ticked off the list of to-dos for the day. Folks, movement ain’t optional. It’s a serious example of Use It or Lose It.

So if that’s the case, what signal is your body sending?


3 Responses to “Moving Naturally…Off Your Bum”

  1. I’ve come to greatly appreciate the light manual labor/standing job that I have. Years ago when I tried to combine it with chronic cardio I wasn’t so keen on it, but I’ve since ditched the right one :)

    What do you think the percentage is of people who work sitting for more than, say, 6 hours a day? I’m sure it’s not small, and likely increasing steadily, but I’d also bet that it’s nowhere near the percentage of people who sit for the majority of the time they are ‘off work’. You would think that people who sit all day would want to be on their feet for awhile once they have the chance. Alas, you would also be wrong.

    • Sad but true. I think sitting begets more sitting. It’s a nasty cycle. Part of the reason for this is that we have to send the message to our brain that we want to move. This can’t be done by saying, “Hi brain. I’m interested in moving more.” Well, maybe a primer is somewhat helpful, but our brain is a bit dumb and needs us to demonstrate it, over and over again. And then it’s like, “Yeah, I’m a moving person!” That’s why it’s true that we have to make it a part of our lives for it to be sustainable. Easier said than done when we devote so many hours to working and so few to living.


  1. Moving Naturally…Off Your Bum | Paleo Digest - 04/21/2013

    […] Paleo Periodical / Posted on: April 21, 2013The Paleo Periodical – Folks, I hate to break it to you, but we’re a nation of chair sitters. You know this […]

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