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 take advantage of every exercise opportunity possible, but we often find otherwise, such when we see the masses waiting to board the escalator next to a largely neglected set of stairs. I decided to conduct a 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 the bus terminal is located directly adjacent to the escalator. No extra effort or time is required to reach these stairs. There are 25 steps, hardly intimidating or difficult to climb for most people. The time to ascend these stairs is roughly the same as taking the escalator. For 20 minutes, I observed 450 people pass through. Only 17% of them picked the stairs. Seems quite low at first, but perhaps not too surprising, considering 15% of Canadians do not get enough exercise on a daily basis. Obviously, my study was far from scientific and there were no control variables, but the result was still alarming.

Stairs are great because they’re easily accessible (every multi-level building has them!), sheltered from the climate, and don’t require 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 chose not to take the stairs. They were passing up on reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, weight control, and stronger bones and muscles, even when these benefits were literally steps away. The problem with the obesity epidemic in Canada is probably not the lack of public funding and exercise programs; it is our unwillingness to commit to a healthy lifestyle and put forth the effort to achieve better health.

So why do so many people not exercise when the benefits are overwhelming, and they know better than to be sedentary? And how do we promote more 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 a favour and take the stairs next time you see them.

Categories: Fitness

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