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The Surprising Health Benefits Behind the Asian Squat

The Asian squat has been getting lots of attention these past few years, but most recently it has been revealed that there may be health benefits to this sitting position that is often coveted by westerners.

The squat itself is simple. You place both feet flat on the ground and hunker down with your butt touching your ankles and your knees slightly spreading apart. It’s easy in theory, but seemingly impossible for most in actual practice.

The ability to perform this squat is largely considered something passed down through genetics. 8Asians.com detailed the results of a study that showed 100% of Asian people being able to perform the squat, while only 13.5% of North Americans were able to. Of that 13.5%, 9% had some sort of Asian ancestry. The one person in the study without Asian ancestry who could do the squat was reportedly "a yoga freak". For the most part, it would seem that in terms of the ability to do the squat, you either have it, or you don’t. It's similar to how some people have a taste for cilantro versus those that think it tastes like dishwashing liquid.

Vietnamese sugarcane vendors squatting on a street in Saigon in 1950. Photo via LiveJournal user Foto-history.

People who can perform the squat have always lived with the convenience of having a comfortable seat wherever they find a bit of space on the ground, and now it seems that there are added health benefits to it.

It's a widely accepted fact that squatting when using the toilet helps digestion, as explained by Health and Natural World. Now, a study shared by Quartzy not long ago points to the idea that the squat serves a metabolic function, much in the way that yoga does.

Dr. Bahram Jam, a physical therapist and founder of the Advanced Physical Therapy Education Institute (APTEI) in Ontario, Canada was quoted by the news source as saying: "Every joint in our body has synovial fluid in it. This is the oil in our body that provides nutrition to the cartilage. Two things are required to produce that fluid: movement and compression. So if a joint doesn’t go through its full range—if the hips and knees never go past 90 degrees—the body says ‘I’m not being used’ and starts to degenerate and stops the production of synovial fluid."

Squatting used to be a popular way to enjoy noodles in Vietnam. Photo via kevintruong.vn.

The health of our musculoskeletal system is integral to our wider health. A 2014 study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that test subjects who exhibited strain in difficulty getting up off the floor without the use of hands, elbows, or legs for support (what is known as the "sitting-rising test") had a life expectancy that was three years shorter than subjects who were able to rise from the ground easily.

So with all of these health benefits to be gained, why are more people outside of Asia not squatting? 

Dr. Jam told Quartzy: "It’s considered primitive and of low social status to squat somewhere. When we think of squatting we think of a peasant in India, or an African village tribesman, or an unhygienic city floor. We think we’ve evolved past that—but really we’ve devolved away from it."

Still, with all of the physiological well-being attached to sitting down in such a way, it would be safe to say that anyone who considers this position beneath them doesn't know squat.

[Photo via Around the World]

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