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!
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.
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