Take The Stairs
Does the thought of going to the gym make you cringe? Then donít go and still get in shape.
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By Michael Long
Going to the mailroom, to the color copier, to a meeting, I always take the elevator. It could be just one floor away and I still take the elevator. It took a multi-state blackout to get me to take the stairs at work. Then there were the stairs at home, and the dancing in Union Square in the hot dampness of the rarely-seen darkness. By the end of the weekend, I got a better leg workout than from most of my visits to the gym.
Everybodyís always saying that we have to get more exercise. Thirty minutes of moderate physical activity, four times a week, to be more specific. But up until this year, and its not related to the blackout, walking up and down the stairs at work was not counted by the government as physical activity. If itís not going to count, why even bother?
Under the old survey begun by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1984, only sports and exercise activities were counted in surveys of the populationís fitness levels. Using this old measurement, in 2000, only 25.5% of those over 18 years old living in New York State met the recommended levels of physical activity.
One year later, using the new survey that includes daily activities such as vacuuming, gardening, brisk walking, or bicycling, and even stair climbing in the dark, the percentage of New Yorkers meeting the physical fitness requirements rose to 44.8%. So we are all getting much fitter, without actually doing any more exercise. Joking aside, the change does recognize that people can get exercise doing things like carrying 6 bags of groceries for a couple of avenues and then up six flights of stairs. It makes the survey more accurate.
The change in the survey isnít good news for everyone. Before activities such as walking to the bus were counted, 29.1% of those over 18 years old living in New York reported doing no exercise at all. After daily activities were added to the survey, the number hardly changed, dropping only to 28.6%. Itís not the survey. A very large percentage of the people in this state really arenít getting exercise. And its not just New Yorkers; 26% of all of those over 18 years old living in the United States never exercise.
In a statement put out by the CDC announcing the change in the survey in August of 2003, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson noted ďPhysical activity is not an all or nothing proposition. We cannot overstate how critical physical activity is for our good health and we want every American to understand that small steps toward a more physically active life yield significant health benefits.Ē
In fact, a recent study of middle-aged overweight women in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that over a twelve month period, participants lost about the same amount of weight whether they worked out at moderate intensity or high intensity, for a long time or a medium amount of time. Of course, that does bring us to what they were eating. Maybe people who felt like they worked out hard all the time ended up eating more. The fact is, they lost about the same amount of weight whether they were running or walking briskly.
Tired all the time, canít play with your kids because you canít get down on the floor with them? Donít stress the gym. If the thought of spandex and sweaty seated bicycles makes your stomach turn, donít go there. Get exercise somewhere else. Instead of surfing the web at work when you canít type another memo, go for a walk around the block. You donít even have to get the whole half an hour of moderate exercise at the same time during the day. Take a quick walk around the block twice during the day, and you have ten minutes more exercise. Take the stairs a couple of times instead of the elevator and you are a bit closer. And if you do get a half hour of walking and stair- climbing and grocery-carrying in a day, donít let anyone in spandex tell you that you donít work out. It counts now.