Like many discoveries, "chair aerobics" came from the purest of coincidences.
The seas were choppy that autumn day in 1985, remembers inventor Jodi Stolove, then a fitness instructor trying to lead an aerobics class aboard a trans-Pacific cruise ship. The rough water was causing her handful of students to lose their balance, not burn calories. It seemed as though Stolove would have to do the unthinkable--cancel aerobics.
Then, the lightning bolt--"Everyone take a seat," she directed.
Stolove then improvised an entire workout featuring toning, stretching and aerobic exercises, all while sitting in a chair. Word of the strange new exercise spread quickly among the mostly older passengers. By journey's end, more than 100 people showed up to sit down and tone up.
"Everyone went wild," Stolove said. "They thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I knew I was on to something."
Now, some 100,000 videotape sales later, Stolove's chair aerobics appears to answer the enduring American fitness conundrum: how to exercise without really exercising.
"People usually say, 'You're kidding,' when I tell them about it," Stolove said. "It sounds too good to be true."
In a way, it is. Chair aerobics does require exertion, contrary to how it may sound. Though not exactly a super-amped, bass-blaring, full-on aerobics class, the sit-down workout has been known to surprise a skeptic or two.
Ask Phyllis Pepper. "I kind of laughed when I first heard about it," said the 64-year-old San Diego resident, who does a chair routine every other day. "But then, during my first workout, I couldn't keep my arms up, and I thought maybe there's something to this crazy old tape."
"Chair Dancing" and its sequel, "Chair Dancing: Around the World," offer 45-minute workouts at three levels of difficulty. Seated enthusiasts can strengthen arms, shoulders and back muscles as well as abdominal muscles and legs as they perform everything from the "Chair Cha-Cha" to the "Chair Va Nagillah" (an Israeli, Greek and Russian medley). Consumer Digest magazine named the exercise tapes a "best buy" in its September / October issue.
Though advertised for ages 5 to 95, most chair aerobicizers fall into the older end of that range. Seniors are attracted to the routine's convenience and practicality, which eliminate common excuses about joining a gym or feeling unsafe in a neighborhood at night, Stolove said.
"Chair Dancing" also is used at Kaiser-Permanente Hospitals to help sports injury and other medical patients back on their feet. The safe and limited movements aid in healing the body, doctors say.
"The video beats all the excuses," said Dr. Carol Weed with Oakland's Kaiser-Permanente Medical Group. "It just goes to show that something real good comes out of Southern California once in a great while."