We recently wrapped up a 10-week trip to Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand, during which we spent time in 9 different airports—big, crowded, international airports. Without fail, there was always one place to get away from the hustle and find some elbow room: the stairs.
Every personal trainer, tv doctor and morning show fitness guru you’ve ever seen has given this advice: take the stairs instead of the elevator. It is one of the simplest choices that you can make to improve your fitness.
And judging from the airports, almost no one does it. People will line up 10 deep to get on the escalator when the adjacent stairs are empty. The same is true at the motels we stay in. Even in a small, 2- or 3-story motel, people will wait several minutes for that lone, creaky elevator to take them up one floor.
As I watched the crowds in the airport, I noticed that the few people who did take the stairs were invariably fit, and bounded up or down with ease. This begs the question:
Do people take the take the stairs because they’re fit, or are they fit because they take the stairs?
The answer is both. The more you take the stairs, the more fit you become. The more fit you become, the more you want to take the stairs.
So why don’t we do it more often? If taking the stairs is a simple change that makes a real difference, why don’t more people make it a habit? I believe there are two reasons that stop us.
One is that most of us want BIG results in a SHORT timeframe. That’s why we’re willing to turn ourselves inside-out for a 30-day workout program, or empty the cupboards to follow a 6-week meal plan. BIG changes, SHORT timeframe. But the results don’t last if we don’t make permanent lifestyle changes. Lasting results require SMALL changes over a LONG timeframe. That’s where taking the stairs comes in. Taking the stairs is a SMALL change, but if you do it over and over, until it becomes a habit, it will produce lasting results. That’s why I like to say:
Permanent fitness happens in the 23 hours a day that you’re NOT at the gym.
The second reason we don’t take the stairs (or drink more water, or park farther away, or walk more places, or put our fork down between bites, or myriad other small changes) is that it just seems too simple. Many of us believe that getting fit and staying fit is complicated. It’s a complex equation involving gluten, the glycemic index, interval training, VO2 max, and antioxidants. So we just dismiss the little things (like stairs) as being too simple. Besides, the little things just aren’t sexy and marketable.
There will never be a celebrity spokesperson for Take The Stairs! There won’t be a Superbowl ad for Drink More Water!
But what if it is that simple?
A little over a year ago I started working at a corporate job after 15 years of working from home. My primary concern with going to a 9-to-5 job was that I wouldn’t be able to get my workouts in or plan my meals like I was accustomed.
And I was right. I often couldn’t get myself out of bed to hit the gym before work. And I felt guilty working out in the evening when I now had so little time with my family. So my usual 6-days-a-week workout schedule got cut down to 2 or 3. There were many weeks I didn’t get to the gym at all.
But I did something else. I took the stairs. Every day. At least twice. I worked on the top floor of a 10-story building, and most days I went up the 217 steps when I arrived in the morning, down 217 steps at lunch, up 217 steps when I returned from lunch, and down 217 steps when I left for the day. That’s 868 steps per day, or 4,340 per week.
And I drank more water. I kept a big reusable water bottle at my desk and refilled it constantly throughout the day.
And I parked farther away. I tried to find the farthest parking spot at the office building, just to give me those extra steps. I did the same when going to the grocery store or the movies or the mall.
And ate I consciously. Chewed slowly. Stopped when I was full. Yadda, yadda, yadda. In short, I did all the little things that trainers blab about but most of us ignore.
The result: I lost 15 pounds in 3 months. Again, I LOST 15 pounds while “working out” less than I ever had in my adult life. I was already pretty fit, but I got totally dialed by re-focusing on the little things. The simple things.
With that in mind, I challenge you and your family to make 1 simple change this week. You can play a game that our family plays. Every time we drive somewhere to run errands, we look for the “Fit Family Robinson” parking spot, the one farthest away from the entrance. (FYI, at Costco you can get in an extra 1/4 mile of walking.
It has become such a habit that the boys, ages 11 and 8, remind me when I try to park closer. It’s fun, easy and will cost you less than a minute of extra time. (And pretty soon you’ll be laughing at the crush of cars battling to get the close parking spots at Costco.)
Once you’ve built that habit, take it to the next level. Walk somewhere that you would normally drive.
And drink more water. And chew more slowly. And so on and so on. Little changes, over and over, until they are habits.
And of course, take the stairs. I’ll see you there.