When you have the choice of a comfy couch or cozy recliner chair, odds are you're not thinking about popping a squat on a hard floor. But, believe it or not, the simple act of sitting on the ground can help you live longer and stronger.
Indeed, July 2014 research in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that the ability to get up from the floor is a significant predictor of longevity in people ages 51 to 80. In the study, those who had the hardest time with the task were five to six times more likely to die during the researchers' follow-up period than those who could sit and stand with ease. While the study is on the older side, more recent research, including a May 2020 study in the same journal, backs up the link.
That's because how well you can move from standing to sitting and vice versa is a reflection of your overall health, fitness and function, says Gbolahan Okubadejo, MD, a New York City-based spinal and orthopedic surgeon.
Having more and more trouble getting down onto and up off of the floor? Here's the silver lining: Sitting on the floor is also a simple, effective way to maintain strength, function and vitality as you age.
Fortunately, you don't need to shun the chair for every activity. But spending some time on the floor each day can benefit your health. Here, Dr. Okubadejo shares all the pluses of plopping down on the ground.
1. Better Balance, Stability and Coordination
Getting onto and back off of the floor recruits your balance, stability and total-body coordination, Dr. Okubadejo says. So, the more you do it, the better your balance will be. This is especially important as you get older because it help reduce your risk for falls and resulting fractures.
2. Greater Mobility
Moving into a floor-seated position engages the muscles surrounding multiple joints and body parts such as your shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and feet, Dr. Okubadejo says. Thus, a daily practice of sitting on the floor can help improve your mobility.
That refers to your ability to move through your joints' full range of motion, which is critical to being able to move through life like you want to. It can also help you stay injury- and pain-free as you age.
3. A Strong Core and Legs
Sitting on the floor can help you build a sturdier core and legs. Here's why: "The core must be engaged when pulling the body up from the ground, so getting up and sitting back down multiple times can lead to maximal core engagement," Dr. Okubadejo explains.
Plus, "rising from the floor forces people to perform a similar motion to a squat," he says. So, when you regularly sit on the ground, you're essentially doing several reps of the lower-body exercise throughout the day.
4. Healthier Posture
Sitting on the floor can help promote good posture. That's because when you move from a standing position to seated (and back again) your joints must be aligned to maintain balance, Dr. Okubadejo. Proper body alignment relates to how your head, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles stack up with each other, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
What's more, floor sitting encourages you to sit more upright instead of hunching your back — another factor for healthy aging. (Many of us sit too often and in less-than-ideal chairs, which doesn't bode well for posture.)
How to Sit on the Floor for Healthy Aging
While sitting on the floor can support good health as you age, you have to do it correctly to reap the full benefits. Here, Dr. Okubadejo explains how best to sit on the floor.
Avoid slouching. When your back is in a curved position, it can put extra strain on your spinal discs and vertebrae, he says. Instead, sit with your torso tall and straight. Gently squeeze your shoulder blades down and together.
Sit on a small pillow or towel. This can ease any tailbone discomfort, he says. Plus, it can also place your pelvis in better alignment with your spine.
Move your legs. Any position can become a problem when you hang out in it too long. Try sitting cross-legged, with your legs straight out in front of you or with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
- National Osteoporosis Foundation: “Proper Body Alignment”
- European Journal of Preventive Cardiology: “Ability to Sit and Rise From the Floor as a Predictor of All-Cause Mortality”
- European Journal of Preventive Cardiology: "Sitting–rising test: Sex- and age-reference scores derived from 6141 adults"