It might seem easier to catch the elevator, but unless you live or work in a skyscraper, you may want to think about taking the stairs. That's because a new study to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) this week found surprising results when it comes to lack of physical activity and human health.
University of Missouri researcher Frank Booth is publishing work with colleagues that suggests reducing daily physical activity is an actual cause for increasing risk factors for serious, chronic diseases like diabetes and heart trouble. It turns out that increased risk factors started showing up in study subjects in as little as two weeks.
Booth, a professor of biomedical sciences in the Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, worked with researchers at the University of Copenhagen in a series of studies. First, participants reduced the amount of steps they took per day from 6,000 to 1,400 for three weeks. (That meant more reliance on motorized transit and elevators) In the second, more active subjects reduced their activity to 1,400 steps per day for two weeks. (According to the University of Missouri, the number of steps the average American adult takes per day is 7,473, although inactive Americans often take only 2,100 steps a day.)
After making those small behavioral changes, participants were administered glucose and fat tolerance tests, which measure how fast the body is able to clear glucose or fat from the blood stream. After two weeks of no exercise and reduced activity, participants had much higher levels of glucose and fat and took a much longer time to clear the substances. That means increased risk for diabetes and other problems.
So what does this mean for you? Don't underestimate the good that can come from walking, biking, skating, running and so on. While you are reducing your own carbon footprint by cutting back on motorized transit, you are also helping stay active, which can have a big impact on your long-term health. There are lots of small choices you can make every day: walk up the street to buy a pint of milk instead of getting in your car, take a stroll at lunch instead of plopping down in the break room, and walk to school or work if it is close enough.
And about that elevator, unless you are disabled don't even think of installing a private one in your home as a luxury or curiosity. (Trust us, the practice is becoming more common than you might think.) Although elevators don't use near as much energy as, say, refrigerators or air conditioners, they still add to our overall consumption, and that generally means fossil fuels. If we are going to get serious about reducing emissions, we have extra incentive to walk or take the stairs when we can.
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