I think some people may be born to sit. When I was a toddler, I preferred not to toddle. My mother finally bought a harness, put it on me and took me for walks, using the harness to keep me upright. Though I now walk on my own, I never learned to like exercise.
But I do try. I take Pilates and yoga, and on most days when I don’t have an exercise class, I go for a walk.
I know I should do more, so it was disconcerting when scientists concluded that sitting is as bad for you as smoking. “We are sitting ourselves to death. The chair is out to kill us,” according to James Levine, MD, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. I’ve never smoked but I’ve certainly done a lot of sitting in my life. Apparently, we all need to move around more.
Part of my particular problem is that when I’m at home, my mother’s lessons in time management get in the way. Housework can be boring, and she amused herself by figuring out the most efficient methods for doing everything. I was her apprentice, and she taught me the fastest, easiest ways to make a bed, iron a shirt, fold laundry, clear away clutter, and more
I was channeling my mother a few weeks ago when I got up from the sofa, started for the bathroom—and then noticed a mug sitting on the coffee table, waiting to be carried to the kitchen.
“Oh, good,” I said out loud (I talk to myself). “Two birds with one stone.”
The kitchen was 22 steps away, and it was on the way to the bathroom, which was 15 steps beyond it.
By the time I got to the kitchen, however, I’d realized that it would have been better for my health to make two trips, rather than just one. As usual, I was automatically saving time and energy. It’s a habit that’s hard to break.
Recently, I went for a long walk with a friend. She’s one of those people who actually enjoys exercising, and she was wearing a pedometer. When we finally returned to our starting point, she informed me that we’d just taken 3,500 steps. I was impressed.
Afterward, I decided that I need to make more of an effort to make an effort, since that doesn’t come naturally to me. I now have a pedometer of my own. Like the harness my mother once made me wear, it reminds me to keep moving.
It makes sense, as some investigators have pointed out, that evolution didn’t design us for long periods of holding still. All the same, scientific conclusions are frequently retested, and it’s possible that in a few years someone will demonstrate that sitting is good for you after all.
I’ll be the first to celebrate the news, from the depths of my favorite chair.
Flora Davis has written scores of magazine articles and is the author of five nonfiction books, including the award-winning Moving the Mountain: The Women’s Movement in America Since 1960 (1991, 1999). She currently lives in a retirement community and continues to work as a writer.