Sitting=Doom, Kneeling=??
October 12, 2010 9:06 PM   Subscribe

Sitting: latest addition to the list of things that are OMG BAD for you. So I wondered, what about kneeling?

I'm sure most of the hivemind has heard of the study that came out not too long ago which pronounced that sitting down was going to kill us all no matter how many hours we spend running or lifting weights. (For those of you not yet enlightened read here here and here for a sampling).

Yes, I know, correlation does not equal causality. Yes, I know, we're all going to get cancer from our cell phones/food/pet rocks ... but my attitude on the sitting thing is sort of like my attitude on blueberries. Blueberries might not be the super cancer-preventing food they were touted as a few years ago, but I eat them because they are delicious and they can't hurt right?

I'm a grad student, I have to sit and read all the dang time. I literally just bought a new "regular" desk, and while it was IKEA it was still money that I can't really afford to shell out again for a new standing desk (not even a jury-rigged kind using file-cabinets like this. File cabinets are expensive). So in-lieu of standing I thought, "hmm, what about kneeling? Is it better for you? Is there something about your butt touching a surface that is worse than your knees touching a surface?" Google-fu failed me, I can't find an answer on this one anywhere.

I took a cushion off the couch and am kneeling on it at my desk, it seems to work pretty well but if it isn't actually "better" for me I might as well go back to sitting in my chair and awaiting my untimely end.
posted by blue_bicycle to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
if you know all those things in paragraph two, then you know how silly this question is.

But if you must, you can build a fine standup desk with cardboard boxes, phone books, reams of printer paper, etc. atop your regular desk. no need for file cabinets. Standing up has other magical benefits, of course, if you put your health in correlative studies' hands... :)
posted by johnchristopher at 9:23 PM on October 12, 2010

Best answer: The general idea is that we, as human beings, simply aren't designed to be inactive for long periods of time every day. The 8-12 hour seated job is a relatively new development in the last 100,000 years of homo sapiens history. I would imagine that if you find yourself in a state where you are not activating your muscles for long periods of time (some studies say any more than 2.5 hours), be it sitting or kneeling...the net effect is the same. Its not like kneeling is some secret hack. The reason why standing is preferential to sitting is because you are activating your glutes in addition to other sets of core muscles which aren't fired when sitting. Whether or not kneeling hits more muscle groups, I'm not sure. Those studies are all pretty grim, and unfortunately its hardly a situation that our culture is keen on changing...although embracing standing desks is becoming more commonplace...which is great. Standing desks are awesome.
posted by jnnla at 9:24 PM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I did the kneeling thing for quite a while because my chair was cheap and uncomfortable. I put down some rolled up towels to soften the ground. I did manage to find something about Carpenter's knee.

Journal Article on Bursitis
Bursitis of the knee
Scroll down to bursitis

One problem with sitting is the shortening of the hip flexors and weakening of the glutes leading to the pelivs tilting forward. This in turn messes up people's lower backs. If you're kneeling and consciously squeezing your glutes every once in a while to strengthen them, it avoids that problem. On the surface it seems that more muscles are engaged while kneeling anyway, as well as promoting good spinal posture.

I found I could kneel for long periods of time in front of the computer without the same pain as sitting, but eventually my knees would be uncomfortable and I'd walk around for 5 minutes.

Additionally, as a grad student, you might be able to find old filing cabinets on campus. I know that unused cabinets tended to migrate towards the loading docks and back closets. You could also find a way to raise your existing desk, perhaps by putting wooden blocks (or milk crates if you're truly a college student) underneath the legs/sides.
posted by just.good.enough at 9:25 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have to sit at my computer all day. Totally not good, right?! Here's what I do:

Every few hours, I take what I call a "Sunshine Break," during which, I get up, out of my chair, and take a lap around my school's campus, or my building, or talk on the phone for 2 minutes outside my office... I can justify it as the non-smoker's version of a smoke break. I think it's healthy because it involves me getting up and moving around every few hours, which is really what your body needs, right? movement!

I know it doesn't directly answer your question, but it is my personal solution.
posted by chicago2penn at 9:25 PM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Squatting is the most natural form of sitting and it's great for you. Babies do it naturally and people in areas without chairs sit squat their whole lives.

Baby Squatting
Man reading while squatting

If you lift a lot and pay attention to your hips, hamstrings, and the rest of the posterior chain I wouldn't worry about sitting so much but at least you have a good alternative.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:27 PM on October 12, 2010

I think kneeling promises you a longer life only if you genuflect a lot. For most of us, it's a one way ticket to OW.

Get out of your damn chair at least once an hour. Walk, get some tea, get some sun and air. And ride your blue bicycle everywhere.
posted by maudlin at 9:31 PM on October 12, 2010

You have to sit, but if you are reading, do you have to sit in one position at your desk? Sit in a comfortable chair, then shift to the couch, etc. Also you could read standing up, perhaps at a tall counter. And go for a walk around the house or outside a lot. Or do a couple of squats.

When I read this research, I started to make sure I stood more when I had a choice--like if waiting for the bus, for example.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:07 PM on October 12, 2010

Best answer: Getting up out of your chair is important, but so is your posture while sitting.
Chairs tend to promote poor posture (slouching, slumping.) Sitting on an exercise ball - or anything that forces you to maintain an upright position - counteracts some of the effects of inactivity from desk work. When you sit upright, you are using your muscles, which burns calories and keeps them toned (and we all know core strength This is one reason seiza (which is just Japanese for "proper sitting") is used as a rest position in martial arts.
Here are some plans for a seiza bench, which is designed to take some stress off the knees. For the DIY impaired, you can also straddle a pillow. It looks weird, but so does sitting on a giant bouncy ball.
One of the PhD's in my lab uses an exercise ball as a chair. It's kind of adorable. (He also sometimes wears Indian dress instead of western, double adorable.)
posted by KITTYFLOWER at 10:12 PM on October 12, 2010

I did the same as just.good.enough. I started working at a job where I'm on my feet a lot at a computer or moving about, and that's been much better for me physically than my previous all sit down job. Even though I spend about 1/3 to 1/4 of the day sitting at a desk, the standing and moving time helps make the sitting time easier.
I tried doing a standing desk at home but somehow couldn't get it to work for me. Something about relaxing, studying and standing somehow didn't mesh especially after being on my feet for most of the day. After thinking about it for a bit, I tried kneeling. One of the problems with sitting is the terrible positioning of your spine and neck leading to bent over postures where you are leaning your chin on your hand or some other hideously unhelpful position for body mechanics.
What I've done is turn my flat-seat chair sideways, put a pillow on it, then kneel on the pillow, then 1 or two more between my rump and my heels. My keyboard is on a stand and so is the monitor to raise them up a bit to normal levels for good ergonomics.
My knees hurt at first after half an hour or so and I'd have to get up. Now I can go a bit longer but there's a natural tendency to get up and walk about after awhile which prevents sitting for too long. At first my legs would feel really cramped. Now I can get up and feel fairly normal relatively quickly.
I like the way it makes me feel, my back is straighter and my spine is naturally erect. Optimally, I'd probably do this on the floor and kneel on something soft but haven't gotten there yet. Next to impossible to lean my chin on my hand now. I'd say try it out.
posted by diode at 10:30 PM on October 12, 2010
posted by amberwb at 10:45 PM on October 12, 2010

How about one of these? I can't vouch for the health benefits or comfort, but I had a coworker who used one and he loved it.
posted by you zombitch at 12:15 AM on October 13, 2010

as someone who stands 8 hours a day for my job, i can tell you that standing has it's own injuries, as does kneeling.
posted by itsacover at 2:56 AM on October 13, 2010

Seconding the kneeling chair. It's surprisingly comfortable, and if you're using it right, it makes your posture ballerina-level kickass. It's a little awkward in the beginning until you remember NOT to lean back.

(Kneeling vs sitting in general is not an even exchange. I can't even begin to imagine how bad your knees would end up hurting after 40 hours a week of kneeling. It's not the surface on which you're kneeling so much as the pressure and weight on the joints. Those tricky little fuckers have to last you a lifetime, and their warranty seems to run out at about 45 or so.)
posted by elizardbits at 5:17 AM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all! I actually had a kneeling chair as a kid and I recall loving it-- maybe I'll have to invest in another one. I wonder why that solution didn't occur to me sooner.

And yeah, I get up and walk around (perhaps too often...) and I do ride my blue bicycle every day :)
posted by blue_bicycle at 6:19 AM on October 13, 2010

I dare say your attitude on blueberries is fine unless you're eating 3000 calories worth a day, or eating them to the exclusion of everything else and giving yourself some sort of dietary deficiency.

What alarms me about the sitting thing in the set of articles you link is this: "After four hours of sitting, the body starts to send harmful signals," Ekblom-Bak said. She explained that genes regulating the amount of glucose and fat in the body start to shut down.

This sets off all sorts of alarms in my head. Your body is REALLY good at regulating glucose. This graph shows how quickly you get things back to where they started even after eating a high sugar meal. Turning genes on and off is part of normal operation. It should probably be more worrying if your body isn't wrapping things up four hours after you've last eaten. I'm not sure if this is just bad science reporting or what but the most charitable reading I can give this suggests that someone in the knowledge custody chain is dropping the ball.

I am not saying that you need to have a more sedentary lifestyle, but this is like blueberries. If you're riding your bike every day getting up and walking around regularly you're probably doing the right thing. If you're giving yourself a horrible repetitive stress injury because you're afraid of sitting, that's not any better than giving yourself a B-12 deficiency from a diet consisting of nothing but blueberries.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:38 PM on October 13, 2010

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