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Sitting Pretty – How We Sit Now Can Make All The Difference To How We Move In Later Life

Article by  Anne Elliott

Now be honest! As we know to our cost, the older we get the more we seem to be sitting down. For those of us who have quite active jobs, the end of the day cries out for a nice meal and a few hours with your feet up in front of the tele. For those of us who work at a desk, the evenings become mini busman’s holidays. If you actually counted up all the time you were sitting down in a day you would scare yourself silly.

The problem is that it is a downward sticky slope, for as we move to old age we will end up sitting for virtually all of our waking hours unable to get up and move around, unless we do something about it. The movement that is used to get in and out of a chair is called a squat. It is a ‘compound’ movement because it uses lots of muscles to do it. It utilises the quadriceps, gluteal muscles, adductor group, erector spinae, abdominal muscles and the hamstrings.

Use it or lose it!

The problem with muscle as we’ve discussed before is very much use it or lose it and years of progressive sitting weakens all these very important muscles. You see this in action every day. Look at how a 20 year old gets in and out of a chair, they virtually jump in and out, however, now look at a 50 year old with a desk job. They now have to use their hands and arms to help pull them upright using the desk or chair arms as support because their bum and leg muscles are so weakened. Now look at an elderly person. They will have to use their hands and arms plus a rocking momentum to help get out of a chair and as to sitting down, they will locate themselves in an appropriate space in front of the chair and just flop downwards praying gravity will do the rest. Of course I’m generalising but take a look at your family, friends and workmates to see how they get in and out of chairs. Then look at yourself. If you are using your arms to help you, then you need to do some squats and bring some strength back into your lower half.

How to start doing successful squats.

Put a dining chair behind you and stand in front of it as if you were going to sit down on it with your feet slightly wider than hip width. You might want to stretch your arms forward at shoulder level to act as counter balances. Now go to sit down in the chair but:
1) Do it quite slowly
2) Have your face looking straight forward
3) Keep you back very straight and even slightly arched
4) Push your bum back as far as it will go as you descend.
5) When you feel the back of your legs touching the edge of the chair, hold it for 3 seconds and slowly come back up to straight
6) If as you go downwards you feel your back becoming rounded then stop. That’s as low as you can go keeping good form. It will get better with practice.
Start by doing 1 set of 8 a day and build it up to 3 sets of 12.

By the way, don’t forget to bring the exercise back into real life and every time you get in and out of a chair, remember not to use your hands if possible. Your bum will thank you.

Photo credit: Ambro


ANNE ELLIOTT is 52. She has a Personal Training Practice that specialises in working with middle-aged clients and their associated health problems. She lectures in Sports Science at Middlesex University, is an ABAE boxing referee, is registered with REPS at Level 4 and is undertaking a Doctorate in exercise in middle age. Anne appears regularly in the media talking about her specialisation - exercise in middle age.

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  1. Alison Green

    September 7, 2011

    I am recovering from cancer surgery and chemo. I realised recently I had nearly become Mrs Immobile. However two weeks on from my wake up call I am trimming up and becoming more mobile. Use it or lose it – I know I nearly lost it!

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