In this post I wish to challenge the attitude that it’s all or nothing when it comes to exercise and health, and to show how small conscious choices in a busy life style actually can make an important difference.
Written by diabetes coach Hildegunn Fossheim
A while back I attended a diabetes conference in the big city (In Norway that is Oslo, and on a world-scale it’s really quite small, but it’s still the biggest in our small and fair country). As usual I took a plane from my hometown to get there. While I was hustling my self out of the terminal, I suddenly became very aware of the fact that at least 99% used the escalators every time this was an option, instead of the stairs that are always located right next too the escalators. At our way home from the conference the situation was exactly the same, and I joked to my colleague “Well, we can’t take the stairs. Someone might see us separating from the herd”. Though, if had been the other way around – that everyone had taken the stairs – it would have been embarrassing to take the escalator.
Imagine that – everyday exercise – leading the way. But it’s not the society we live in is it? Yes, we live in a society constantly focusing on fitness, but it’s more on the build muscles, run a marathon or climb a mountain kind of way – it’s go big or go home. But this isn’t the case with being able to live a long healthy life. Small changes in your everyday habits can lead to a huge change. But with the all-or-nothing mentally the bar is set so high that is so much easier to fail, and even worse – not even try. This is because when the goal is so far from the current state, you’re demotivated before you have even started. Why even try achieve a goal you know you can’t reach, right? No wonder the majority can’t keep up. The irony with the stairs vs. escalator scenario is that the one person that dares to take the stairs actually get’s to “to the end” faster than the majority stuck in the escalator as sardines in a box. We will rather stand still for 1 minute, tightly embraced by strangers, than actually use 45 seconds to move and, in some cases as with the stairs vs. escalator, reach are goal faster.
This observation inspired me to prove the opposite of what todays society seems to be wired to believe: that small steps matter and can make a huge difference when it comes to you health. And most importantly that you should be proud of the small changes as well.
Our everyday lives are ruled by countless small habits that we are no longer aware of, such as taking the elevator or escalator instead of using our legs for a few extra seconds. We are moving less than ever, we are eating way more than ever, and as a result we weigh on average more than just a few decades back. I will now illustrate how small deliberate changes can make a an important difference when it comes to our health, and weight.
According to livestrong.com, a person weighing 70 kg/154 Ibs will burn 102 calories by walking up and down stairs for ten minutes. A lighter person will burn less calories, while a heavier person will burn more. So let’s say your office is located at the second floor. You walk up the stairs when you come work, down when you go to lunch, back up from lunch, down the stairs again when you need talk to a colleague or grab something in the car, back up the stairs again on your way back from middle-of-the-day-errand, and than finally back down again when you’re done for the day. If we assume that you spend 2 minutes each time, it results in total 12 minutes spent walking the stairs on a daily basis. That amounts to 122.4 calories extra a day. No, you don’t see how this makes a difference? Let’s calculate some more shall we: According to caloriesecrets.com you need to burn 7777 calories more than you consume to lose 1 kg/2,2 Ibs (I took the trouble to convert from pounds to kg for you. You’re welcome). If you walk the stairs 12 minutes for 5 days of week, you’ve burned 31,824 calories during a whole year, which in theory means you’ve lost 4 kg without really any extra effort. Remember that this is only by taking the stairs instead of the elevator! A simple choice you most likely face each day.
And know you think “well 4 kg doesn’t really make that much difference”? Did you know that, according to several studies, people with the risk of getting diabetes can prevent or the delay the disease by losing 5-7% of their body weight. That is the equivalent of 5-7 kg if you weigh 100 kg. In other words, though a bit exaggerated, only 12 minutes walking in stairs every day for a year can prevent you from developing diabetes, and all the serious complications that follows. Talk about small steps making a big difference!
In reality, it’s not that black and white of course, but it triggers some interesting thoughts. Who haven’t used this excuse to themselves to avoid exercise, “well, I don’t have time to work out for a whole hour, so I might as well skip it all together. I’ll exercise tomorrow instead. “And than we’ve all use this excuse over and over again, right?
Let us take the illustration a little bit longer. You decide to leave the car in the driveway and use your feet to take you to work (outrages I know). If you live a 30 minutes walking distance from the office you’ll burn on average 150 calories, depending on weight and speed. You only walk to work because the temptation is simply to great after along day at work, when all you want is to get home to the couch and eat a good dinner. By walking 30 minutes for 5 days you will have burned 750 calories, no matter if walk to work, to the grocery store or take a stroll after dinner. Making this a weekly routine for a year, and in theory 5 kg will be lost without incorporating any extra chances to your life. Imagine if you add both a 30 minute walk and taking the stairs to your daily routine?
It’s important to emphasize that this article wasn’t meant to stress losing weight or counting calories. Believe me, I’m a true advocate for living a life style you can actually be happy and comfortable with. Besides if losing weight itself is the goal, there is more effective ways than only walking the stairs for 12 minutes a day. The point of this post was to challenge the attitude that it’s all-or-nothing when it comes to exercise and health, and illustrate how small changes in a busy life still can make an important difference. The focus on calories is only because numbers are easier evidence. In addition to all the calorie-focus I can promise you, you will certainly be in better shape and get more energy by adding small bursts of activity in your daily life.
Hopefully this post inspired you to stop the next time you have the choice between stairs and an elevator? Not that yours truly always resists the lazy temptations of an elevator. I’m probably to bad at this myself. What about we make a deal? Next time we are face the choice between taking the stairs or the elevator/escalator we take one second to make a conscious choice. If you still choose the elevator/escalator, than at least you know you’ve made a deliberate choice. It’s important to be aware that the everyday little habits we execute robotically is actually choices that we make, and can change. Small steps can actually end up making a big difference in your life.