VanHaren: Turns out rocking chairs are good for your health

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Roger VanHaren

If you’ve ever walked through the main terminal at Charlotte International Airport, you were probably struck by surprise to see about a hundred rocking chairs lined up along the windows.

I looked it up, and I found out that Charlotte International’s iconic rocking chairs originally evolved from “Porchsitting, A Charlotte Regional Family Album,” a 1997 exhibit of digital monoprints by an artist named Jamie Franki. There were large photos of front porches, with rocking chairs, and in front of the photos, as props, actual rocking chairs. When the exhibit’s time was up they took the chairs away, and people got upset.

Haley Gentry, who manages amenities at Charlotte Douglas, said: “We didn’t realize how popular they were ’til we went to remove the exhibit. We got such a public outcry that we said, ‘Wow, we need to keep these here,’ and we expanded them.”

So currently, there are 100 rockers spread throughout the terminal building for travelers to enjoy. It is by far the airport’s most popular amenity.

The chairs are called Kennedy Rockers, named after the type that JFK used to alleviate his chronic back pain. Kennedy had dozens of the chairs and placed them everywhere — in the Oval Office, in practically every room in the White House, at Camp David, and even aboard Air Force One. The chairs are tall and straight, with flat wooden slats running up the back and a curved seat. In airports, they’re usually painted white or stained and left unpainted.

President Kennedy was known to have a “bad back,” popularly attributed to his heroic actions in World War II. I’ve read that, in truth, throughout his life he battled chronic disease and kept a tremendous amount of pain under wraps. To get through his days, he relied on a variety of therapies, including pain-relieving drugs, heat therapy and the comfort of a good old-fashioned rocking chair.

I love rocking chairs. I love to sit rocking back and forth while reading, watching television or doing some other activity due to the relaxation effect it has on my body. We have two rockers on our screen porch, and I love to sit there and watch the birds, the butterflies and the fireflies.

I’ve read that studies demonstrate that a rocking chair may actually do a lot in terms of physical and mental health. People who have mental health issues and physical problems such as arthritis, back pain, Alzheimer’s and dementia (to name a few) can benefit from a rocking chair. Rocking is a mild form of exercise.

“Seniors Rocking to Good Health,” an article in the March-April 1989 American Journal of Sports Medicine, stated “muscular tone was really improved with the action of rocking , and that it was found as being significantly therapeutic for seniors due to the stress-free exercising and the peaceful properties.”

My hero, Mark Twain, loved rockers, too. When we visited his study in Elmira, New York, we saw that he had two of them there, and on the front porch of his home, he had several. One of my favorite pictures of Twain shows him sitting in his rocking chair holding his cat, Beelzebub.

Somebody once said: “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.”

Don’t you believe it.

Contact Roger VanHaren at