I’ve been working with a small group of medical students over the past academic year, and last Wednesday was our last class, a feedback session.
Now, I’m insane about taking the stairs, even to the 22nd floor of the hospital, as high as it goes. And I make my students take the stairs, too. Well, encouraging them sounds better.
My party line: “We’re young, we’re healthy, what a blessing to be able to take the stairs! Let’s leave the elevators for the people that really need them.”
Which honestly, sometimes includes us. Hey, people get asthma. I’ve done rounds with febrile illnesses, like flu and strep throat. I’m not saying that that’s a good thing, but it is a doctor thing… and I’ve sheepishly boarded the elevator those times that I thought I might pass out on the staircase.
So this feedback session, I asked my students what they thought of the stairs thing. Did they feel pressured? Annoyed?
“Not at all,” replied one. “I’ve needed to get more exercise. Or, any exercise. And I find myself taking the stairs more often now. I think it’s good for me!”
Then we chatted a bit about how we as physicians can help to shift the current cultural perception around activity. (Okay, I was the one talking, but still, the students seemed interested.)
Right now, the infrastructure of our environment is designed to make life as physically easy as possible. We don’t have to haul water from a well or a river; we just turn on a faucet. We don’t have to hunt for food; we can go to the store, or even order groceries. We don’t have to walk miles ever day just to do basic stuff; we have cars and buses and trains. Absolutely everything is easy, from laundering clothes to cleaning house.
And it’s killing us. Obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, even cancer risks are significantly higher among sedentary people.
But here’s the good news: Any activity counts, any activity is protective, better than medicine even. There’s alot of research on this, and I recently covered a huge study on the health benefits of activity for Harvard Health Blog. Researchers had looked at reported activity from over 88,000 people. Those who reported at least 10 and max 59 minutes per week of light to moderate physical activity– like walking– had an 18% lower risk of death from any cause. If they took it to the next level, and did something like stair climbing (which is considered vigorous), their risk of dying from any cause was 26% lower. Geez, when I make my students trudge up the stairs with me, I’m actually doing them a huge favor!
Sadly, 37,000 people in that study reported that they were completely sedentary. They didn’t even walk for ten minutes per week.
But we don’t have to be that way. Those of us who are so blessed as to be able to move our bodies around this earth should do so! Not only will the world be better, but we will as well.