Casual Fitness

I hate elevators.  I truly hate elevators.  And not just because of the feeling of claustrophobia (which I get), or the awkwardness of standing around squashed against strangers (which I feel), or the infuriating inefficiency of standing and waiting around for vertical transport (which my meager attention span can’t seem to tolerate).

These considerations, while significant, pale in comparison my observation that we as a society seem to have forgotten that the majority of us have perfectly functioning lower extremities perfectly capable of carrying us up and down a few flights of stairs.  It boggles my mind when I see people use an elevator to go down a single flight.  I mean, really?!

Now, don’t get me wrong, elevators do serve a noble purpose.  There are those among us with disabilities, injuries, or other conditions preventing the usage of stairs.  In this regard elevators have served to provide equal transport within a building.  As someone who has moved into dorm rooms on the 5th floor of buildings without elevators, the existence of an elevator to move heavy or bulky objects is a blessing.  In my hospital, elevators allow us to move patients to the places they must go to receive care.  These are just a few examples of appropriate elevator operation.

For routine use, though?

Obesity is a scourge in this country, and it has been getting alarmingly worse over the past 20 years.  Obesity rates exceed 25% of the population in most states and is associated with a myriad of health problems.  1 in 4 women who become pregnant are obese, which not only increases the risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, stillbirth, and congenital anomalies, it also makes cesarean deliveries and postpartum recovery more complicated.  Even a lot of adults who are not obese are deconditioned from sedentary lifestyles and white collar jobs that require mental, as opposed to physical, exertion.

obesity 1990
United States obesity map in 1990.  Not too bad, really.

Obesity is a complex, multifactorial problem.  However, a major contributor is that most of us Americans have become complacent.  We spend 10 minutes driving around a parking lot to find the closest possible parking space instead of just parking in back and walking.  We take an elevator to go up 3 flights instead of taking the stairs.  We have technology that makes our daily lives easier and more efficient (I love my Roomba), but also provides us more time to sit around.  The American Diabetes Association recommends 10,000 steps a day just to help maintain weight (as opposed to losing weight), and most people fall dramatically short of this goal.  Our cars, technology, and yes, elevators, are not helping.

obesity us
United States obesity map in 2015 with trends by state to the right.  Note the complete absence of blue or green states.  Even in traditionally “fit” states, such as California and Colorado, 1 in 5 people are obese!  This is seriously scary!

Good health is golden. Good health is something to hold sacred, that you can feel grateful for even at those times when the rest of your life seems to be falling apart.  No matter how bad things get, at least you aren’t taking 20 medications to manage all your medical problems.  At least you don’t have to stick yourself multiple times a day to test your blood sugar and give insulin injections.  At least, if you live at the clinic, it’s because you are providing care, and not because you need to see multiple doctors a month for all of your medical conditions.  At least you don’t have to devote a chunk of your income to prescriptions and copays.  In a high stress world, at least you don’t have to be stressed about your health.

Have I made my point?

To live a fabulous life you have to have the health and vitality to really live.  Maintaining good health is a necessity to maintaining balance, and maintaining good health is something in this crazy world of ours that you can actually have some control over.  Part of maintaining good health is keeping your body fit.  Vanity aside, staying fit keeps your heart strong, your muscles lean, your bones free of osteoporosis, and even keeps your mind sharp.  Good fitness ensures you can continue to enjoy the things you love well into your later years.  Who cares if you are 70 if you have the fitness of a 50-year-old?

mom and dad at wedding
My parents.  Aren’t they gorgeous?  Dad is 70 and still runs marathons.  Mom is 67 and swims 3-4 days a week.  Totally healthy, pretty much zero medications, and they look younger than most couples in their 50s.  They are fit and happy and living life fabulously!

Finding time to workout, though, can be tough.  When I work 16 hour days and 90 hour weeks, the last thing I want to do is go to the gym.  I’m sure many of you can relate!  So how to prioritize fitness and maintain balance when the time and energy just frankly doesn’t exist?  Enter what I like to call “casual fitness.”  What I mean by this is figuring out how to build small snippets of exercise into your day.  Here are some examples:

  1. Get a FitBit or some other sort of fitness tracker and set goals for yourself, at a minimum 10,000 steps a day.  Then see how you do.  Having a goal and keeping track will help motivate you to walk more!  These devices keep track in real time, so if it’s 3pm and you’ve only got 2000 steps, then you know you’ve got some work to do before midnight!
  2. Pretend elevators do not exist.  Take the stairs 100% of the time (okay, unless you are going to the 100th floor of a sky scraper or something…though if you’re feeling it, go for it!)  As someone who hates elevators and has a lot of experience taking the stairs, I promise you will not be a sweaty mess in your nice suit after walking up to the 3rd floor.
  3. Stop circling the parking lot at a grocery store or restaurant, stalking the space in front.  Just go to the back, park, and walk.  Even if you are in heels – you know you’ve walked farther in heels before!
  4. Take periodic 5 minute walks throughout the day.  Short of someone coding, imminently delivering, or whatever similar emergency exists in your line of work, there is nothing that can’t wait 5 minutes for you to get up and stretch your legs from time to time.  Get away, clear your head, get some steps in.  By the time you get back you will feel better and likely be more efficient!
  5. No matter how tired your are or how gross you feel, you can always walk.  Take a 15 minute walk after dinner every night (or longer).  Bring your family with you and make it some time to be together without the distraction of technology.
  6. If you live close to your grocery store or place of work, consider walking.  Biking is a good option as well, just be careful of distracted drivers who are texting and not necessarily looking out for you.

You would be surprised how much activity just these small changes can add to your day.  You may not be devoting an hour to a formal exercise regime, but you will be incorporating casual fitness on a regular basis.  I predict in a few weeks you will notice a difference.  So join me in eschewing the elevator in the name of casual fitness and better health!  I’ll see you on the stairs.

What ideas do you have about how to incorporate casual fitness into your day?  I would love to hear your thoughts! 

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