Unless you are employed in landscaping, agriculture, construction, fishing or manufacturing, chances are good that you are sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day. On average, American employees spend two-thirds of their working hours seated. And even when employees are seated, technology is reducing their calorie expenditure. For example, inputting content on a manual typewriter 30 years ago required 100 more calories a day than inputting the same content on an electronic keyboard requires today.
Once home, American families enjoy over five hours of daily television. Add the time spent playing video games, listening to the radio, reading, eating meals, texting, talking on the cell phone and studying, and you can understand how the total number of seated hours can easily exceed 50 hours each week.
As our sedentary time increases, so does our knowledge of its harmful effects. Sitting reduces our calorie-burning rate and insulin effectiveness. A lowered metabolism makes losing weight difficult. Sitting is so damaging that one Australian study found that “the risk of dying increased by 11 percent for each additional hour of television a person sat and watched per day.”
Dr. Mehmet Oz, who coined the term sitting epidemic has proposed that we make a point to stand up and move about at periodic intervals throughout our day to offset the damaging impact. At home, he suggests we walk on a treadmill or sit on an exercise ball while watching television.
A second—and innovative—approach is suggested by Jodi Stolove, who is seeking to create an epidemic of active sitting with the creation of chair dancing exercise programs. Instead of exhorting us to get out of our chairs, Jodi tells us to sit down and work out using one of her chair dancing DVD programs.
I heard about Jodi’s innovative work in Southern California through a mutual friend and asked Jodi the following questions:
CC: Why is it so hard to commit to regular exercise? What are common excuses for not exercising?
JS: I created chair dancing exercises after hearing multiple excuses from participants in my weight-loss group who were not exercising. When asked to walk regularly, members claimed their feet hurt or their knees bothered them. It was too cold or it was too hot. It wasn't safe to walk in their neighborhood. Swimming or water aerobics weren’t an option because inconvenience and embarrassment about their bodies kept them out of a pool. And getting down on the floor to do uncomfortable maneuvers wasn’t physically possible.
CC: How did you get interested in chair exercises? What led to your project?
JS: At age 26, I was physically fit and taught 20 or so weekly dance and exercise classes. While teaching a dance aerobics class I broke my foot. In a cast and on crutches for 12 weeks, I had to come up with a way to keep working out. The solution was to teach exercise and dance classes sitting down, and I was surprised when I realized I was getting great exercise!
From there, I taught the chair dancing exercises on a cruise. After that, I went on to teach a weight-loss class for Kaiser Permanente. Today, I present chair dancing exercises at conferences and teach dance and fitness classes. In addition, I'm a full-time mother.
CC: Can exercising overcome bad eating habits (like eating too much of the wrong foods—or even of the right foods)? Is exercise alone sufficient to lose weight?
JS: Exercise is the closest miracle solution we have for weight loss and, more importantly, for weight maintenance. One of my programs, The Answer Is Not in the Refrigerator, focuses on breaking the cycle of binge eating by relieving tension through exercise. How we feel about ourselves and our bodies is affected by exercise. Exercise can help us look and feel healthy. We feel disciplined and competent; consequently, we eat more discriminately.
CC: What are specific benefits of chair dancing exercises? Who most benefits from the workouts?
JS: Sitting down during exercise eliminates most of the stubborn obstacles that otherwise keep us from engaging in an ongoing fitness routine. Individuals can exercise conveniently in the privacy of their own home, in any shoes or clothing, in a limited amount of space or time and in any weather.
While the programs give a good workout to the already physically fit, they are ideal for beginners who need to work their way back into shape, those with injuries (such as low back pain) or medical conditions (such as arthritis) and those trapped indoors by inclement weather.
But the programs also serve individuals who are intimidated by exercise programs that involve jumping, coordination or aerobic capacity. For these individuals, chair dancing exercises give them a safe way to exercise. As they get into shape, they can graduate to more strenuous forms of exercise.
I’ve also designed the programs to address three fitness levels: gentle, moderate and high energy—from no sweat to dewy! In addition, my stretching, flexibility and relaxation programs (Chair Yoga and Simply Stretch) are particularly good at reducing stress and putting people to sleep.
CC: For seniors and those who are significantly overweight or out of shape, is it ever too late to begin exercising?
JS: No, definitely not. I routinely talk with individuals in their 80s and 90s who are using chair dancing exercises to stay in shape. One woman, who was 104, was using my chair dance exercises in her assisted care center.
My programs are responsive to everyone—individuals who are significantly overweight and out of shape, seniors with medical conditions or injuries and individuals simply wanting to improve their fitness in a fun, sustainable way. I stress functional fitness, that is, making tasks of everyday living easier and safer due to stronger muscles, strengthened core stability and better balance.
CC: What impact have you had on the people around you? What is your vision? What is your goal?
In the past 20 years I have received hundreds of letters of gratitude. One woman wrote:
I bought this DVD because I need to exercise, but I have trouble with my knees It's not at all hard to follow, but you do work up a sweat, so you're getting a good workout.
I ordered this for my mother. To get her started, I did the workout with her, and it's awesome! She loves it as well!
I recently suffered a low back injury and have since gained weight. This product is great because I can get in a good workout without being in a great deal of pain.
My goal is to encourage individuals to exercise, especially those who feel defeated by demanding work schedules, injuries or age. Because our health depends on incorporating exercise into our daily lives, I’ve worked to create exercises anyone can do and have fun while doing them. I’ve put previews of my 10 programs on my website, along with free sample workouts, so individuals can see and experience the benefits for themselves.
CC: Your photograph reveals a beautiful 52-year-old woman. Looking at your photograph makes me wonder if it isn’t hard for overweight, discouraged individuals to identify with you. Some might say, “Well, easy for you to say how to get fit. You’re blessed with a gorgeous figure and good health.”
JS: On the contrary—I was chubby as a child. What saved me from a lifetime of pudginess was that I loved to move in my body. I loved to dance, swim, play table tennis and take long walks. Of course, at this early age, I didn’t know about the mind-body connection, stress reduction or how a strong body made daily functions easier. All I knew was that I felt good, happy, energized when I was moving. The weight came off when I was 14 years old, and I’ve kept it off since through my love of movement.
I believe we are meant to move our magnificent bodies, and I feel most alive when I am moving. This is the joy that I want to share with others by encouraging them to move in their bodies.
There you have it—two solutions to the sitting epidemic proposed by two experts. Stand up and start moving or sit down and start chair dancing. Whatever your choice, as long as you are in motion, you’ll enjoy the extraordinary benefits of healthful exercise.