When Mayor Bloomberg announced his new initiative to encourage new constructions to make stairs more accessible, a storm of opinions and “nanny-state” comments were thrown around. But why did it evoke the heated reactions?
It is human nature to strive toward efficiency; finding ways to make our daily lives easier and simpler have increased significantly in the past hundred years. But eventually experts in the field of health began realizing that at some point more efficient has become less healthy. This is true of many of the mass-produced foods and drinks we consume that have high quantities of chemicals and sugars, but it is also true when it comes to transportation, work environments and our choice of leisure time activities.
As a student working towards a masters in applied exercise physiology, one of the first courses I took was looking at health and physical activity, more specifically how physical activity is correlated to specific diseases and conditions that are ever prevalent in our society. And for the wide majority of these, physical activity does not only help significantly after the diagnosis of these diseases but even more so to help prevent them from even developing. What many Americans do not realize is the growing movement within the private and public sector to change policies that will help to encourage citizens to increase their physical activity levels.
One article that I read that spurred me to write this entry focused on the complaint that taking the stairs a few times a day will not help you to lose weight so therefor it must be a waste of time. If there is one bullet point I want you to take from reading this, is that any physical activity is better than no physical activity. And along with that, becoming more physically active even if no weight is lost, will still decrease your likelihood of developing heart disease, lung disease, type II diabetes, and help prevent weight gain and cognitive decline. The smallest changes in your lifestyle, such as standing up and walking around a few minutes every hour if you work a traditional desk job, taking the stairs, scheduling walking meetings or walking to get lunch instead of getting food delivered can all make a big difference. People often think with the misconception that it is either all or none; that they need to be sweating in the gym every other day for an hour if they want to improve their health. While for some that might be helpful, for many that is just not possible, but that doesn’t mean that activity such as walking or using the stairs (activities that use the main muscle groups of the legs, that will raise the heart rate and increase circulation) can have a major impact on your daily health and overall well being.
Physical inactivity is a frightening concept to health care professionals. The percentage of americans that are not only below the physical activity recommendation levels, but also almost completely inactive, are increasing, and for younger and younger ages. The health risks involved with physical inactivity are so high that one health care strategy is to try to establish physical inactivity as a treatable and preventable condition with profound health implications and to possibly create a billable insurance code in order to help individuals to receive health care coverage for physical activity measures.
I am passionate about this subject so it makes perfect sense to me to want to encourage those who are able to increase their activity in small ways such as taking the stairs. Try it today and see how you feel- you might be surprised!
Here is a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that talks about the benefits of physical activity.
Here is a link to the most recent physical activity guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services.