A Look On The Lighter Side: Beware the perils of living life in your chair

Here we go again: another emergency bulletin warning us against sitting in chairs. If I had a calorie for every news flash about that… well, I’d have to take it sitting down.

This particular fanatic is endocrinologist James Levine, who is — or at least was — director of Obesity Solutions at the Mayo clinic. I don’t know where he is now — probably wandering around trying to avoid chairs. (He’ll never be chairman of anything — that much seems certain.)

Levine says he has developed an exercise-free way to exercise. He calls it Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT.

At first blush, I must admit that a “non-exercise way to exercise” sounded irresistible:

“Forget exercise,” says the expert.

“Done!” says me.

“We are moving away from the word ‘exercise,’” adds Barbara Brown, a researcher of physical activity at the University of Utah.

I am moving away from it, too — as fast as I can, which these days is at a rather sedate trot, but I’m doing the best I can.

In fact, moving away from exercise may be the only exercise I’ll get all day. But at least I’ll enjoy it.

First and foremost, says Levine, avoid chairs at work. This is important because if you’re not sitting in chairs, you’ll be doing something else. My response is, yes, we’ll be tripping over the unused chairs littering the walkway. Much safer to just sit on them.

According to the write-up in the Washington Post, “Working Americans spend, on average, more than 40 percent of our waking hours in a chair.” It seems a pretty generous assumption that we’re all awake. But I digress.

“The basic idea,” it goes on, “is to act like that constantly moving kid in the second grade who drove the teacher crazy: Throw a ball, pace while on the phone … do random under-the-desk movements… and alternate between sitting and standing.”

So now we’re ALL supposed to be that annoying kid? I’d rather be unemployed than try to think in an office full of such shenanigans.

It’s all part of Levine’s idea that we don’t need to exercise to lose weight … as long as we fill our day with his harebrained schemes. “Let’s all become NEAT ambassadors,” he says.

Sounds good till you get to the details:

For instance: you could trade in your electric coffee grinder and grind the beans by hand. Or move all the office trash cans away from the desks. If we do that, yes, there is a chance people will get up and walk over to the can.

But there is a much greater chance that they will simply toss something, and miss, and keep right on going — expecting that somebody else will eventually bend over and pick it all up. Somebody who does not want the extra exercise.

Then there’s making beds. “Make four or five beds in your day and you have 20 minutes’ worth of exercise.”

Making four or five beds? What’s going on here? If there are four or five people in your house who are old enough for beds of their own, then they are old enough to make them, the lazy louts!

You can also burn calories by scrubbing floors, moving furniture or “swiftly climbing four flights of stairs” instead of taking the elevator. “A study shows that if you can do this in less than one minute, you have good functional heart capacity.” I’d say you’re either quick or you’re dead. But you don’t need a study to tell you that.

I do think it’s odd that most of the tasks mentioned here sound like you’d be taking work away from some hotel’s housekeeping staff. By contrast, I don’t see Mr. Levine volunteering to “hand-wash a car” or “mow lawn with push mower”.

But here’s the best part, the bit that — anywhere else — I would call the icing on the cake. The very same article that warns us all to stand up confesses that “despite the enthusiasm for standing desks, it turns out that standing is not much better than sitting.”

I predict that if we wait long enough, we’ll find out this whole idea of exercise is a scam. And I’m willing to wait for that news while I’m sitting down. Even if it means I’m risking my life.


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Judy Epstein

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