Sunday, November 4, 2012

An Encouraging Trend

I was in the Seattle/Tacoma airport today, and I noticed quite a few people taking the stairs even though they're flanked by escalators.  It's been my impression lately that more people are using stairs than even five years ago.  I used to be the only weirdo on the stairs, but today I shared them with about ten other people.  I know Seattle isn't necessarily representative of the nation as a whole, but I (optimistically) think of it as the vanguard in this respect.

One of the healthiest things a person can do is build exercise into daily life.  You don't have to be Usain Bolt or Lance Armstrong to reap the benefits of exercise.  In fact, evidence is accumulating that moderate exercise is healthier than extreme exercise.  Taking the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator, walking or jogging even a modest amount, or standing for part of the day, can have an immediate, measurable impact on metabolic health (1).

Maybe it's macho, but I'll feel defeated the day I need a giant energy-guzzling machine to take me up a 15 foot incline.  I have legs, and I intend to use them.  Escalators are good for people who are disabled or have very heavy bags, but the rest of us have an opportunity to use our bodies in a natural and healthy way.  Part of the problem is how buildings are designed.  Humans tend to take the path of least resistance, and if the first thing we come across is an elevator, and the stairs are grimy and tucked away down some side hallway, we'll tend to take the elevator.  Architects in some places are building in more prominent stairways to encourage gentle exercise throughout the day.


Anonymous said...

Your definitely an optimist Stephan. The main reason I take stairs at an airport is because slow people take escalators.

I rather not carry bags up and down stairs during travel for a few reasons. My mind is pre-occupied and my body is not in a normal routine. Ie. More chances of injury.

On a second note. I agree about the "extreme" exercise problem. That is a big topic upon itself that seems to be rarely discussed.

Surgeons, sports wear, and the supplement community are making a literal killing off of people.

Cassandra said...

I prefer taking the stairs but whenever I'm in a position to take stairs, it's somewhere I will have to speak to someone at the top and I don't want to be gasping for air upon arrival. And considering I've seen toned and muscular people doing the same thing on stairs, I'm not taking any of the "Well if you took them more often, that would stop happening." There are a variety of other reasons to avoid them, including anemia related to a menstrual cycle, knee/hip pain and dragging a 2 year old with me. Though if we have time, I make the kiddo take the stairs for good measure and we go slow.

microkat said...

I've definitely noticed the same trend here in San Jose. Two years ago at this time of year there would be 15-20 people at the community track on weekend mornings. This month I counted more than 90. There are families, girlfriends chatting, crossfit trainers, tai-chi classes, and random runners/walkers. Makes me optimistic, too! : )

Sanjeev said...

I have not taken the elevator to my apartment in almost 2 years.

I see no one else ascending on the stairs though - only folks leaving, going down.

shopping malls, offices ... I've not noticed the same as you have.

There has been a slight up-tick in bike commuting, but Toronto has always had much more of that than most any North American city anyway.

Primal Toad said...

I have always chosen the stairs more often then not. I LOVE walking and think it's the best exercise for anyone and everyone.

Hopefully we will be going in the right direction soon because this current path that society is on is quite deadly.

Puddleg said...

Jogging up the stairs, or taking them two at a time, is a great way to show off (if there's not too many stories). Beating the slowpokes in the lifts can be fun.

Nicolas Cournault said...

Be the change you want to see, right?
Stephan, since you've mentionned taking the stairs a while ago in one of your posts, I've tried to form a new habit: I live on the 8th floor and now try to take the stairs when I remember it. The key thing for me is to rememeber it (sometimes I just forget it because of years of taking-the-elevator habit).


Jenna said...

I also take the stairs whenever I can, but I really wish there were more open stairways instead of stairwells. As a woman, I always feel like it could be dangerous to be alone in a stairwell. So I do consider where I am and what type of stairwell it is before I take the stairs.

Jeff Rothschild said...

Stephan, as a researcher you must spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer. A lot of recent studies suggest that one exercise session during the course of an otherwise sedentary day isn't as good as moving throughout the day. Do you make any special efforts to get up and move through the day? (aside from stairs)

Richard said...

funny thing about escalators, is they were originally intended for people to walk up them to get upstairs faster, just like those conveyor belts at airports. In asia people who want to stand on an escalator stand off to the side so those walking up the escalators can go by them.

Swede said...

Stairs are often hard to find in a building. Even the government building I frequent do not have large signs pointing to the staircase. You have to often actively be looking for them in order to find them (this of course goes along with your comment about building design)

Anna Friebe said...

I love this example from Japan, where they installed a really slow elevator, to discourage anyone that could take the stairs from using it.


'Here is an interesting example. During the planning stage for the construction of a new condominium, the prospective residents had a heated debate on whether or not an elevator should be installed. Some were opposed because once installed it would consume energy, which would mean carbon dioxide emissions. Others were in favor, insisting that elderly people living on the top floors would need it.

How did they solve the problem? A "slow elevator" was their solution. They agreed to install an elevator that moves slowly. Young people don't want to wait for the elevator, while elderly people can use it if they want to, since they are usually not in a rush. As expected, once installed, the slow elevator is now used only by the elderly, and it consumes much less energy than a conventional elevator.'

JBG said...

An anecdotal data point about the bad effects of sitting all day. An executive typee I knew fifty years ago used a stand-up desk. He's 99 now and still going strong.

I've read (Drop Dead Healthy) about a guy who has a treadmill desk. He reports that about 1.4 mph works well.

Sanjeev said...

An anecdote on one bad effect of stand up desks (which I've been doing 3 years now) - the lower back seems to get little stretching, so when I actually do need to sit it's now harder than it used to be.

Going to Hindu religious ceremonies[1] is torture

[1] I'm atheist and I go to show respect for my relatives

Sanjeev said...

[1] I'm atheist and I go to show respect for my relatives

which makes it torturous for me in 2 ways

Kat said...

I'm working to better incorporate things like this into my daily life. I've become increasingly sedentary over the years due to fatigue from undiagnosed Celiac disease and work demands. This year has been a transformation, and I'm working to make gradual, and hopefully permanent, lifestyle changes.

Jane said...

I think the best arrangement is a computer screen that's halfway between sitting and standing height so you can do both. I do foot exercises when I'm standing, and when I sit I'm in a half lotus so my joints get stretched.

The result of all this plus a diet that encourages connective tissue turnover has been the correction of mild skeletal deformities caused by the wrong chairs and the wrong shoes when I was growing up.

I used to hate walking because it was uncomfortable due to the deformities. I walk everywhere now and love it.

JoAnne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JoAnne said...

Because my sister in law recently had a baby there, I've been spending a little more time at the SDMH hospital in Jaipur, India. They have very prominent stairs right beside the elevator, and they printed motivational comments (in English) on the front of the steps about how exercise is good for weight loss and improving cardiovascular health. Lots of people (who were able) were using the stairs, which is great, because a number of people who were not able needed access to the elevators.

Is it possible for you to do a post someday about the evidence that extreme exercise can be problematic? I've read a bit about it online, but haven't seen any of the research. In particular, I wonder if the researchers controlled for diet--that may also something to do with this. This is anecdotal, but the people I know who are extreme about exercise also eat lots of heavily processed protein bars and fortified foods.

Gabriella Kadar said...

I take the stairs down (11 floors) because it helps to maintain the support muscles for my knee. (Busted 28 years ago, tried everything conventional to no end and discovered that 20 minutes three times per week on a recumbent bike worked except I don't bother with the gym + membership fees anymore). Next moment of enlightenment occured several months after installing a Mayan hammock as a bed replacement: getting up from a semi squat multiple times per day (up to 20) has strengthened the 'other' muscles so the bum knee is a happy joint these days.

If I'm home and not doing anything physically active, I'm hanging out in the hammock. Just gotta appreciate those Mayans!

Sanjeev said...

I had bad results with hammocks - I so wanted to love them.

I found they folded me up too much, reinforcing the sitting all day pattern.

When I have the choice these days I basically sleep on a cloth covered sheet of plywood.

Gabriella Kadar said...

Sanjeev, a properly hung hammock does not restrict. You need to check out information on 'hammock sleeping' and get a big, stretchy Mayan hammock.
I sleep like the dead. No numb arms, no tossing and turning, no stiff neck..Good dreams.

I also line the inside of the hammock with a wool duvet...hanging in the air requires insulation.

What I love is that my sleeping positions are 3 dimensional as opposed to the 2 dimensionality of sleeping on a mattress. No pillows required.

Minimalist ecofriendly bed. Can't get bedbugs or dustmites.

Sanjeev said...

I know exactly the ones you're talking about, the colourful ones without the spreader bar, some big enough for a family to get into. Tried using them on and off for years, with attempts at various Western and Asian beds/mattresses/futons. Friend loaned me a water bed for several weeks.

the hammock didn't restrict me - it allowed me to carry out my habit of overly-contracted lower abdominals, slightly kyphotic shoulders.

Muscle imbalances from injuries and bad habits ... often led to severe cramps (abdominals, hamstrings, calves, occasionally some in the neck too) during my low carb days

Sanjeev said...

> egg as the next weeks nighmare meal.

You missed this series' point.

Where's the excessive activation of the reward systems

- either explicitly measured

or observed by people pigging ut uncontrollably

or observed by people having severe craving for eggs

Diana said...

I've got you all beat. Live in a 5th floor walkup and you won't have any choice. 80 steps a day. Oh wait, no laundry in the building either. Hahaha. I have to walk down and up with 25 pounds on my back, and several blocks to a laundry. Who needs gyms?