This Daily “Blue Zones” Ritual is Easy, Free, and Increases Longevity

I consider myself a ground person—I’ll take sitting and lying on the floor and the freedom to sprawl out over the couch or a bench. After watching the Netflix docuseries Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones, I found out that being one with the ground has a potential connection with longevity and overall health. The Blue Zones, or areas in the world with the highest concentrations of centenarians (people over 100 years old), have recently gained more attention.

While you may have heard about certain Blue Zone characteristics like plant-based diets, a glass of red wine a day, or eating dinner with friends, the habit of sitting on the floor has largely flown under the radar, but it was a huge factor for a particular Blue Zone. In Okinawa, Japan, its inhabitants regularly sit on the floor. In the docuseries, longevity expert Dan Buettner (who is credited for the popularization of the Blue Zones) explained how the homes of 90 and 100-year-old Okinawans contained little furniture—just a table that was low to the ground and a tatami mat or Japanese floor mat. In Okinawa, it’s traditional to sit on the floor to eat, read, relax, or connect with others. Even the 103-year-olds he met would get up and down from the floor 30 times a day. Experts attribute this lifestyle factor to their unique longevity (along with other factors such as high-antioxidant foods and close communities). This practice seems so simple it’s almost too good to be true… We investigated.

How does sitting on the ground contribute to good health?

Consistently getting up and down from the floor is not just a factor of centenarians’ lifestyles in Buettner’s research. Other studies have also found the ability to sit down and get back up from the ground predicts longevity. In a 2014 study, researchers developed the sitting-rising test (SRT) in an attempt to understand the link between musculoskeletal fitness and survival. The SRT is scored from 0 to 5, with a score of 5 indicating successfully sitting down and standing back up from the ground without any support (including hands, knees, or side of the leg) and any wobbling or losing your balance. The study evaluated over 2,000 people aged 51 to 80 and found SRT scores to be a significant predictor of all-cause mortality.

As Buettner explained in the docuseries, getting up and down from the floor is basically like doing 30 squats (except rather than knocking out 30 squats at the gym, these centenarians are mindlessly doing it throughout the day). Squats aren’t just for sculpting your butt; they are also hugely beneficial to your physical health. They can help boost bone mineral density, which adds strength to your skeleton and spine, strengthen your lower body, lower the chances of injuring your knees and ankles, and improve flexibility in the tendons, muscles, and ligaments that get tighter as you age, as well as increasing muscle mass (we begin to lose muscle mass in our 30s, and the rate increases after age 60).

Getting up and down from the floor throughout the day builds strength, mobility, and flexibility, which are the main components of overall health, but Buettner believes another huge correlation between sitting on the floor and longevity is what it prevents. According to the CDC, a fall is the leading cause of injury and injury-related death for people aged 65 and older. Sitting and rising from the floor is a necessary skill for independence and autonomy because daily activities often require the ability to move in this way. A high SRT score also indicated a reduced risk of falls because you’re working on mobility, flexibility, and strength to prevent bad falls.

Source: Karolina Grabowska | Pexels

Tips to embrace sitting on the ground

In all of the Blue Zones, people engage in more active lifestyles. They’ve been exercise snacking before it even had a name. Sitting on the ground seems to supplement this kind of active lifestyle. Imagine how your life may change when your physical environment encourages the practice. Read on for tips to embrace the habit of sitting on the ground. 

Work from the floor

Forget the standing desk—maybe we all need floor desks. Think about it: You probably get up several times a day to refill your water bottle, use the restroom, and see what’s in the fridge. If you work from the floor, by the end of the workday, you’ll have effortlessly integrated 30 squats into your WFH routine. Try setting up your laptop on your coffee table or lap desk and sit on or against a pillow for comfort.

Set up spaces in your home that make sitting on the floor more comfortable

If you don’t work from home, it may be a little weird to start working from the floor in your office, but that doesn’t mean you can’t adopt the habit. Create areas in your home that encourage relaxation and connection after work, spaces that invite you and your friends to sit around to play cards or swap dating stories. Throw in some props like pillows and a cozy rug to hygge-ify it. While you’re at it, stack up some books next to the space to make it your designated reading nook. Sharing this new practice with your friends can be fulfilling, too (and just imagine you and your gal pals still gathering on the floor in your 90s).

Wear comfortable clothing

Tight, rigid jeans are not welcome here. Wearing comfortable pants will not only increase the chances of you sitting on the floor, but it may also give you a gentle nudge to try some Wall Pilates or go for walks throughout the day, increasing your chances of living less sedentarily.

Build your strength and mobility to make floor sitting easier

Not all of us will be able to jump right into sitting on the ground all the time. As we discussed, it does take a certain amount of strength and mobility to embrace this practice. Petra Fisher, a movement coach, has a great video series that goes over those barriers to floor sitting and demonstrates ways to enhance your strength and mobility (especially in your knees, hips, and toes) to make it an easier habit. 

Try different sitting positions

If you’re not used to sitting on the ground, it may not be the most comfortable place to be at first. Our bodies are accustomed to sitting in chairs and relying on the support that they offer. Without that support, we end up slouching, which will ultimately cause more pain and discomfort. Fisher recommends using props like a blanket or cushions to support your body on the floor, as well as moving often and trying out different seated positions to increase blood flow and comfort. Check out her video for more tips to make floor sitting more accessible. 

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