Henry David Thoreau once shared that he had three chairs in his home, “…one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society.” Doesn’t that provide you with remarkable insight about the value of a chair?  

Chairs provide comfort, stability, relaxation, style and for Thoreau, “…solitude, friendship and society.” 

A leader in the fitness industry, Len Kravitz, Ph.D., author, educator, and exercise scientist at the University of New Mexico, teaches that chairs provide wonderful opportunities for exercise and activity. He suggests that every time you go to sit in a chair, first sit, then stand and then sit. Similarly, when you are ready to leave the chair, stand, sit and then stand and go.  A nice way to get in some extra lunges and squats during the day, right?

Just how sedentary in that chair of yours, are you? Is movement a chore or a gift? Sitting or lying down, (with the exception of sleeping), are what we call ‘sedentary’ behaviors. “Adults and children in the U.S. spend the majority of their non-exercising waking day in some form of sedentary behavior such as riding in a car, working at a desk, eating a meal at a table, playing video games, working on a computer and watching television,” according to Kravitz.

Sedentary behavior requires little energy expenditure. According to the Department of Health of the Australian Government, examples of sedentary behavior include:

  • Sitting or lying down while watching television or playing electronic games.
  • Sitting while driving a vehicle, or while travelling.
  • Sitting or lying down to read, study, write, or work at a desk or computer.

There is a difference between a person who is sedentary and a person who is physically inactive. Being ‘physically inactive’ means not doing enough physical activity. However, being ‘sedentary’ means sitting or lying down for long periods. So, a person can do enough physical activity to meet the guidelines and still be considered sedentary if they spend a large amount of their day sitting or lying down at work, at home, for study, for travel or during their leisure time.

Sedentary behavior is associated with poorer health outcomes, including an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. You will benefit from minimizing time spent sitting each day, and from breaking up periods of time spent being sedentary, as often as possible.

How does an inactive lifestyle affect your body? When you have an inactive lifestyle according to MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the world’s largest medical library, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

  • You burn fewer calories. This makes you more likely to gain weight.
  • You may lose muscle strength and endurance, because you are not using your muscles as much
  • Your bones may get weaker and lose some mineral content
  • Your metabolism may be affected, and your body may have more trouble breaking down fats and sugars
  • Your immune system may not work as well
  • You may have poorer blood circulation
  • Your body may have more inflammation
  • You may develop a hormonal imbalance

The key is to engage in regular, consistent physical activity. Sitting is indeed the new smoking. Taking it too easy isn’t going to be easy on you, your waistline, your muscles or your brain cells.

Well the other day, another insight into the value of a chair hit me from the other side of the moon—or somewhere mystically far away.  I’ve come to see a chair as a metaphor for healthy life. Sitting too much can’t provide health. Not sitting enough doesn’t provide health either. So here’s my deeper understanding of just how to view a chair when you are lost or overwhelmed about getting on track to lead a healthy life.

Healthy living begins with clear-thinking goals. Take a seat on that chair over there and think about this. What are your lasting goals beyond the coming fall season? Your health, living well, fit, peaceful and happy sound like good goals to me. 

So use my CHAIR method to keep you focused on what’s really important and don’t get lulled into sitting in that chair you are on for too long:

 C stands for a deeply felt commitment to very specific goals. You see the goal, be aware of why you’re doing it. Commitments that are consistent and comfortable last.

H is for healthier foods, healthy carbs and proteins, healthy fat. DIEt is a word I never use since it has the word ‘die’ in it and always means weight gain.

A is for daily activity, daily tracking of food, sleep and exercise. What  you track, you adhere to. Shoot for 8,000 – 10,000 steps a day. But even raking leaves counts as activity.

I is for inner motivation and inspiration—you have to have your reasons for wanting to live healthier and happier and it’s best if those reasons are genuinely personally meaningful to you.

R is for a realistic set of achievable, rewardable goals. You need something very specific that you are targeting, like you want to be entirely off blood pressure medication—not just “lose some weight” or “tone up.” Set up these goals or you chance going down the same unhealthy paths you’ve been repeatedly going down.

That’s it…commitment, healthy nutrition, activity, internal motivation and realistic goals. Now, get off your chair and actually start creating that healthier life you’ve been sitting there, thinking about. But keep that CHAIR in mind. Just don’t sit in it or lean on it too long. Wait. Lean? Not another acronym! Sure, why not?

Lean has become a hip word, as in “lean into” this or that. But when I think of the word “lean” I think of other things besides being outspoken, aggressive and powerful, thinking bigger, fighting better, acting faster and listening better. There’s also lean manufacturing, leanmanagement, and even lean in weight.

My definition of “lean” though is a bit different, which after reading me for all of these months, you probably have come to expect. Ready? Here’s what being LEAN means to me:

L– love and laughter

E– exercise and enjoyment

A– accomplish and appreciate

N– no on the negative

You can see why being lean in these terms makes more sense.. These elements of lean promote health, happiness, wellbeing, positivity and actually reduce stress, friction, alienation and strife.  Sure you can take a Xanax after a confrontation. But why disturb yourself in the first place? Why not simply not create the problem in the first place? 

If it’s your wellbeing, health and happiness, choose my definition to lean on. You’ll go much farther.

This column was written by Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.