Lately the most common question I get from over-weight or too-sedentary individuals, especially seniors, is how they can get a quick fix, short-cut, easy way to burn fat, increase their metabolism, improve their circulation, and strengthen their heart and lungs, all in one low-impact quick exercise. Keep in mind these individuals are usually not prone to enjoying any exercise, and their lack of physical endurance and flexibility makes many basic exercises (like even walking) a chore that they quickly give up on. So for you I offer up my quick, easy and cheap fitness trick: The Stairs!
Climbing stairs strengthens your lungs and heart which let you take in more oxygen, which is key to circulation and muscle stimulation and growth, which in turn burns more calories. When you walk up stairs, your body’s response is to release endorphins to handle the “strain.” Endorphins are natural mood lifters and anti-inflamatories. Stress is reduced, focus is improved, and your immune system is enhanced.
A study in European Heart Journal followed 69 hospital employees who used stairs instead of the elevator for about three months. Some of the results for the stair-climbing employees were:
- Body fat dropped 1.7%
- Blood pressure fell 2.3%
- LDL (or bad) cholesterol fell 3.9%
- Lung capacity went up 8.6%
Now before you say that you I can barely walk, there’s no way I can handle stairs take a deep breath and consider this, to get any real fitness benefit from walking you have to achieve a certain speed or length, all the while having nothing to hold on to — daunting for many. With stairs, however, you can get maximum body benefit with as little as one flight. You don’t even have to spend 20 minutes walking a stair climber at the gym, or handle five flights of stairs at the office. What you will need to do is incorporate steps whenever and where ever you can as much or as little as you can – with the commitment to do so regularly and always push yourself just a little so that you never plateau.
Here are some practical examples of using stairs to better your body:
Say you have a flight of stairs in your two-story house. You probably always walk up and down them several times a day. Next time you are taking the stairs to go to another room, stop and repeat the up and down (or down and up) 1-2 extra times, then continue on your way. Doing this 3-4 times a day is a simple way of increasing your fitness. Once that becomes easier, increase your speed a touch or add an additional up/down set.
Extra-credit: Sometimes when I walk past my stairs (not intending to use them), I just throw in a quick up and down (or down and up) then continue on my way. Try it!
For those of you in a high-rise building (or at least more than three stories), you probably have access to the fire-stairwell. Even if you’re up too many flights to use the stairs to go to and from – take 2 breaks (one a.m. one p.m.) and walk up and down just 2-3 flights of stairs. Throw in an extra set on your lunch break. Once that is no longer difficult on your system, increase speed or add a set.
Maybe there’s a stair climber at the gym, but since you only attend classes or perform a quick resistance training circuit you’ve never used it. Well, try adding 3 minutes of stairs climbing to your workouts, 3 times a week. When that become easier, add a few more minutes or increase your speed. An extra 5 minutes to your hectic schedule won’t kill you, and in fact it’ll do just the opposite!
If you have problematic knees, keep in mind that walking down stairs is harder on the knees than up. Take them sideways (walk turned to the side) on the down, and the pressure is transferred off the patella (knee cap).
Speed is not essential – however, if you always stop just when your heart rate and breathing seem a little strained, you’ll never improve your cardiovascular condition. Take it slow but stay steady and always push yourself just a touch further.
Seniors: if balance or falling is your concern, there’s no reason why you cannot hold on to the railing (especially on the walking downstairs angle). As long as you continue climbing you will still get the benefit. Just don’t pull yourself along, use the railing for stability but whenever you feel confident (especially on the upstairs), walk without holding on.
So give it a try, before you know it you stairs will be a part of your daily life that you will enjoy. Feel free to write me back and tell me your experiences. Now I’m off to run up and down my stairs!
Kids: They will do what you do. Teach your children to take the stairs whenever possible. We must not forget the terrifying rise of childhood obesity in America and this is just one more way to make fitness an automatic aspect of their lives.
We’re all busy these days, lives jam packed with jobs, kids, driving, chores, errands, (and hopefully a little play time crammed in as well). So it’s no wonder that for the past five years, the fitness industry has grown steadily towards quick and fast workouts.
First there were 30-minute workouts, then one smart infomercial peddler came up with 25-minute workouts. He showed them, eh? Soon almost every body part had a 10-minute option (10-minute-abs, 10-minute-arms, etc.). Now we have Tabata a remarkable offering of 4 minute workouts – woo hoo! Whether you workout at the gym for an hour, or hustle though 4 minute workouts here and there, I thought I might offer a few tricks of the trade to getting a calorie burn, increasing circulation and blood flow, and helping your metabolism do it’s thing – all in one minute! How about that? (Throw back to the old game show Name That Tune for those of us baby boomers who remember.)
Some are easy, some a tad more challenging; some indoors, some outside. The key is to do as many as possible throughout the day. The more opportunities you take to move your body the better health your body will be in. These little bursts of energy expulsion will not help you lose incredible amounts of fat, but added into a sensible exercise and nutrition regiment, they will help speed up the process. For those of you not doing any regular exercise they can still offer immeasurable benefits if you consistently engage in them.
1. Whenever possible, take the stairs.
If you have bum knees take them up vs. down. If you have a week cardio system (get out of breath easily), take short flights, but take them. Build up slowly.
2. Stand up and stretch.
In 30 seconds you can do a full body stretch (arms, shoulders, hands, neck, legs, ankles, feet. Get the blood moving, stimulate circulation and muscle engagement. This will go a long way to alleviating stiffness, especially if done several times a day.
3. Jumping Jacks.
As little as 10 jumping jacks (I always suggest 25) can get the heart pumping which again aids in circulation, digestion, and clears out the brain cobwebs!
4. Push Ups.
Again, 10 (though I prefer 15-20) is a magic number to get blood pumping in your upper body, while stimulating the metabolism. Don’t want to get down on the ground at work – no problem, incline pushups are almost as good. Stand back from a wall or desk, lean into it, and then do push ups.
A masochistic blend of jumping jacks and push ups, this staple to us trainers really revs up the entire body, circulatory and muscular systems, digestive process, heart rate and is perfection with as little as 10. Not sure how to execute these – easy: from a standing position, jump up then place your palms on the ground and throw your feet behind you into a push up position, perform a push up, then bring your feet back in and jump back up and repeat.
6. Walk and Talk.
On a business call stand up and pace the entire length of the call. If you need your computer, get one of those swing arm computer stands that with the flip of a lever moves to standing height. Use a speaker phone or blue tooth devise so you can be hands free.
7. Air Squats.
The more muscles (or larger muscle groups) that you can affect in a quick burst of activity, the bigger the benefits to your entire body. Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, hold your arms out in front of your body, and push your butt towards the floor like you’re going to sit in a chair. Go as low as you comfortably can, then come back up and repeat 10-20 times. Feel that quad (thigh) burn – and know that it’s doing your body good!
8. Dance Off.
At home or office, if you have music on (or can turn on a song from your phone briefly), take a moment to dance. Don’t be self-conscious – everyone needs to dance (see Footloose for validation)! The kids will love it, your co-workers will too. Does wonders for mood uplifting and fighting that afternoon slump.
9. Park Further Away.
Stop being lazy and park further away. Unless weather plays a factor, there’s no excuse for not being able to walk an extra 10-100 yards away.
10. Trot the Dog.
No this isn’t a yoga move – it’s my idea of walking your pet. Speed walk or trot the dog around a block or two (or 3 or 4). The dog and you will benefit from a slightly faster pace that allows you go a little further in the same amount of time.
I could go on but I figure 10 are enough. Please let me know how many of these your incorporate into your day and the positive results you receive.
(By the way, during the 30-minute course of writing and publishing this blog, I performed items 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8!)