Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Take the stairs!

Two side-by-side stories on NPR yesterday caught my ear.  

The first: Americans’ waistlines haven’t expanded over the past twenty years because of what we eat or how much we eat, but, rather, because of how sedentary we have become. Weight gain, loss, or stability is a simple matter of calories in - calories out. So does this mean I can subsist off a diet of ice cream alone as long as I make sure to put the spoon down for long enough to burn off an equal amount of the calories? Could I live on a diet of Big Macs? Pizza? Chips? And still weigh the same as I do now on my whole foods diet?

I’m starting to feel sick already. Let’s not begin to think about what all that fat would do to a body’s organs, circulation, or brain cells. Not to mention the environmental consequences of an all-McDonald’s diet. 

But, at least according to some experts, it doesn’t really matter what you eat as long as you expend those calories. Calories in - calories out. Move over Atkins, Paleo, Weight Watchers and pass me the chips.

Eat less, move more.

NPR then logically segued to a discussion of exercise. The second story: Using the stairs as a public health initiative. If Americans have gotten fatter over the years because of lack of exercise, then how can we start moving more? Use the stairs. Don’t push the up button for the elevator, but take the stairs instead.

Where are the stairs? I know that in my old office in Washington, DC, the stairs were hidden away and were more like an emergency exit than a useable staircase. That is the design in the majority of public buildings that I’ve been in. It’s hard to take the stairs if you don’t know where they are. Check out this staircase from the TV series Mad Men? Have you ever been in a building where it was that easy and central to walk up one flight of stairs?

Boat living certainly has me running up and down the stairs a lot. Three steps and then a three rung ladder to get up on the boat. Five stairs down to get inside. Two stairs down to get in the galley or the aft cabin. Hauling groceries up and down those stairs every third day. Laundry. Trash. Toys. Etc.  Now I know that the stairs aren’t my main caloric expender; I have made choices in my life that promote health: I travel via bike with the girls, towing them behind me in the bike trailer. We walk to the park. We swim in the pool. They both beg to be carried and held. It’s easy for me to get exercise without even thinking about it - it’s nearly impossible to be sedentary when I’m chasing after two small children every day. 

Other lifestyles, however, aren't as amenable to movement. Living in the suburbs and commuting to an office job via car makes it challenging to find time to exercise every day. But small changes, like taking the stairs, can make a big change to health outcomes across the board.

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