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Get Better Exercise From Your Chair

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How many times do you get in and out of a chair everyday? It could be enough for a fair amount of exercise, if you use muscles instead of leaning forward (photo shows terrible sitting) and flopping down.

At a medical conference last year, a speaker droned endlessly about back surgery (even though Studies Say Back Surgery Not Needed, and you can Fix Disc Pain Without Surgery) and the usual tedious exercises that people must do three times a week (then they do unhealthy movement all day that causes the pain in the first place, or do their exercises in back damaging ways - Common Exercises Teach Bad Bending). An obese physician arriving late plodded to a chair next to me. She laboriously bent over, bending wrong to put her bag on the floor. She slowly bent over forward, bending wrong again to retrieve two cushions from the bag. She bent over wrong again to place one cushion on the chair seat, then again for the second cushion for the chair back. She turned her back to the chair, bent far forward, bent her knees a small amount, so slowly, then slammed her backside down to the chair with a WHUMP. She sat rounded for the rest of the lecture about surgery for disc herniation. Sitting and bending rounded forward is the major cause of disc "disease." To easily avoid disc pain and surgery see Disc Pain - Not a Mystery, Easy to Fix.

What to do instead? Any time you start to sit, check if you lean forward and stick your backside out. You shouldn't need to lean far forward to sit, or rise from sitting. If you have to lean, it is usually a sign of weak legs. If your heels come up as you bend your knees, your Achilles tendons are tight (or you have functional bad Achilles habits). You shouldn't (ordinarily) need to use your hands to sit or rise. Your balance and legs should do the work. Do you sit down heavily, not using leg and hip muscles to decelerate? Why jolt your spine and give up free calorie burning at the same time? Try this now to see:

Stand up, ready to sit -

  1. Start to sit, keeping both heels down on the floor.
  2. Don't lean forward. If you lean, correct it by tilting your hip under and raising your upper body to be straighter.
  3. Keep both knees back over your heels. Don't let knees slide forward.
  4. Keep knees parallel over your heels. Don't let knees sway inward.
  5. Notice how you have to use far more leg and hip muscle, and the pressure of holding your body weight comes off the lower back and knee joints.
  6. Notice if you reach for the arm rests, or other support, out of habit. Use your leg muscles instead.
  7. Sit down lightly.


Start to rise from sitting -

  1. Notice if you lean far forward or raise your heels or jut your chin forward.
  2. Notice if you need to push off your hands.
  3. Notice if your knees comes together. Don't let them.
  4. Change how you rise to put both heels down on the floor, push off your whole foot including heels, and use your leg muscles to rise while holding your upper body more upright without jutting your neck and chin forward.

This is not a bunch of strange rules for sitting, or a weird, contrived exercise, it is just basic concepts for normal healthful daily movement.

The previous post explains why it is not healthy for your back or the best exercise to lean and stick out in back - Aren't You Supposed To Stick Your Behind Out to Sit Down or Do Squats? It covered good knee placement too, so check that if you avoid healthy movement because of knee pain.

Exercise is still thought of as something you go and "do" instead of moving in real life. It's silly to do 10 squats in a gym or using your chair and then go back to unhealthy movement each time you sit or bend during the day. Have comfortable healthful movement all day. Sit and rise easily. That is exercise as a lifestyle.


Photo by butterbits


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About the Author


M.Ed, PhD, FAWM

Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.

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