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America is fat because…

When I got to the metro the other day, there were several people waiting for the elevator. I found this odd because we were on the second floor. The first floor, which leads across the way to the metro station, is only twenty steps down. All three of them were able-bodied, as far as I could tell. None of them was carrying something big and heavy. They had messenger bags, or purses. I walked down the steps, over to the metro station, and then up the escalator to the platform. One by one, each of these three people got to the platform after me. They all walked normally.

So I got to thinking about elevators. I take the elevator when I park on the sixth floor. (Well, not so much now that I have the FitBit One to keep track of my steps and how many sets of stairs I climb.) I take it down and I take it up. At work, I usually take it down and up from the third floor to the service level (a total of four floors, but, again, not as much lately). If you’re in a hurry and going to a meeting on the fifth floor, you’re probably better off taking the elevator. You won’t break a sweat and look all out of sorts when you get there. If the meeting is one floor up or two down, the stairs is probably the best bet.

But that’s not how the human brain sees it, is it? We see the elevator as the path of least resistance across an obstacle, like a bridge over a river. It’s an easy tool to use. You step in, push a button, ride for a few seconds, then step out. You don’t sweat. Some are air-conditioned while most are in air-conditioned buildings. One floor up or down, it’s still more comfortable than actually taking the stairs.

I walked up the stairs from the lobby yesterday since my boss and I were talking about something. He always takes the stairs. I wasn’t as winded as I thought I would be now that I’ve been taking the stairs more. That really made me wonder about all those times I’ve probably taken the elevator to go up one or down more than two floors and how that has had an impact on my fight against my weight. I’ve probably avoided burning more calories. Over time, that really makes a difference.

Now, think of the big picture. If those three people avoided burning a few calories that morning, they didn’t burn a lot of calories together. They were not alone. Plenty of people got on the elevator today all over the United States (and the Western, industrialized world). We collectively avoided burning a ton of calories, and we all got fatter. A little bit fatter today translates to a whole lot fatter tomorrow, and a year from now. By current estimates, almost half of US residents will be overweight by 2030. I don’t want to be one of them.

I would be lying to you if I said that I’m not taking the elevator anymore. But I am not lying to you that I will make a better effort to avoid it as much as I can. I owe it to myself and to my family.


Avoid At All Costs!

Categories: Blog Fitness Running Blog

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René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
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2 replies

  1. One of the things I do is to park on the farther fringes of the parking lot. I have to walk further. It did upset my husband after I met him at the mall when I told him it would not be a quick walk to my car when a kid needed something.

    But since he had a test that showed pre-diabetes, he now joins me. There are three grocery stores within ten blocks of our house, so we now walk to pick up what we need, often every other day. Though we do drive if the shopping list is long and very heavy (like more milk, juice, large bag of cat food, etc).

    Also it is quite nice to have an evening walk with dear hubby, plus a bike ride when the weather is nice. Plus his insulin numbers are much better.

    A small bit of warning: be careful on the descending stair bit. During one walk which included lots of walking down a steep hill I got “hiker’s knee.” The downhill part unevenly works some muscles on the knee. It was very painful, and I had to be careful. The cure was to do more exercises involving leg lifts. I am also much more careful in the pool to not bend my knee during the flutter kick, since that contributes to “hiker’s knee.”

    We live in a hilly city where many of the streets literally turn into sets of stairs (my city has fewer than Pittsburgh and more than San Francisco). One of our long walks involves three sets of stairs that go up three almost vertical blocks. I make sure that we do it going up hill, and the rest of the route is going downhill on a gentler slope.


  2. I hear you about the hiker’s knee. I end up very sore on my left knee after a day of avoiding the elevator. I fractured the tibial tuberosity on that knee back in college (and sprained the heck out of the rest of the knee). It gets sore just from jogging, and going up and down stairs are making it ever more sore. But nothing some tylenol and rest can’t take care of… I’m sure arthritis is soon to come.


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