Our bodies evolved to take rest breaks, but sitting on chairs and couches can cause long-term damage. Here’s how to change the way you sit and boost your health
15 July 2020
ANOTHER blistering afternoon in northern Tanzania, another high-stakes game of musical chairs. Stumbling back into camp to escape the sun, desperate for a seat, we glanced at each other and then at the single unoccupied camp chair. In the other, grinning, sat Onawasi, a respected elder with a mischievous bent. He seemed to be enjoying this.
We were spending our summer with the Hadza community, one of the last populations of hunter-gatherers on the planet. Hadza men and women manage to avoid heart disease and other diseases of the more industrialised world, and we wanted to understand why. Our small research team had come in two Land Cruisers loaded with tech to measure every movement made and calorie burned as Hadza men and women scoured the landscape every day for wild game, honey, tubers and berries.
After a long morning, we felt drained by the inescapable heat and humidity. All we wanted to do was sit. Onawasi seemed to feel the same way. He had spent the morning hunting, and certainly deserved the chair more than we did. But this was getting out of hand. Our precious camp chairs that we took into the bush despite their weight were Hadza magnets. Every visitor to our little research area seemed drawn to them like moths to a porch light.
We knew we had a lot to learn from the Hadza about staying physically active. It turns out they also had something important to teach us about resting. Together, over the next 10 years, we would come to understand why chairs are so irresistible, and why they seem to make …