Spring is upon us, but just a month ago, we were still deeply entrenched in winter weather. Winter is a season associated with decreased physical activity. The weather can greatly affect our activity level. Consider the following findings from a study examining leisure time physical activity of Canadians aged 19 and over from the Canadian Community Health Survey:
- 64% of Canadians were inactive in the winter while 49% were inactive in the summer
- Total average daily energy expenditure was 31% higher in the summer than the winter
- Canadians were more likely to participate in physical activity for at least 15 minutes in the summer than the winter
- Participation in any leisure time physical activity was almost twice as likely in the summer than in the winter
Given those statistics, you would expect people to takeÂ advantage of every exercise opportunity possible, but we often findÂ otherwise, such when we see the masses waiting to boardÂ the escalator next to a largely neglected set of stairs. I decided to conduct aÂ little observational study to see just how many of us prefer the escalator over the stairs.
At a local subway station, a set of stairs leading up to theÂ bus terminal isÂ located directly adjacent to the escalator. No extra effort orÂ time is required to reach these stairs. There are 25 steps, hardly intimidatingÂ or difficult to climb for most people. The time to ascend these stairs isÂ roughly the same as taking the escalator. For 20 minutes, I observed 450Â people pass through. OnlyÂ 17% of them picked the stairs. Seems quite low at first, but perhaps not too surprising,Â considering 15% of Canadians do not get enough exercise on a daily basis. Obviously, my study was far from scientific and thereÂ were no control variables, but the result was still alarming.
Stairs are great because theyâ€™re easily accessible (everyÂ multi-level building has them!), sheltered from the climate, and donâ€™t requireÂ any special equipment and extra time or cost. You’d be hard pressed to find anything more ideal or convenient. Yet 83% of people I observed choseÂ not to take the stairs. They were passingÂ up on reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, weight control, and stronger bonesÂ and muscles, even when these benefits were literally steps away. The problem withÂ the obesity epidemic in Canada is probably not the lack of public funding andÂ exercise programs; it is our unwillingness to commit to a healthy lifestyle andÂ put forth the effort to achieve better health.
So why do so many people not exercise when the benefits areÂ overwhelming, and they know better than to be sedentary? And how do we promote moreÂ physical activity? That’s a broad topic for discussion in another blog, but I’ll leave it at this: for the most part, being unhealthy or healthy is a choice. Start small. Do yourself aÂ favour and take the stairs next time you see them.