Healthy Memphis: Taking stairs means giant step toward better living – Commercial Appeal

On the first of the year, while making my rounds at the hospital, I did something I hope to continue: I took the stairs.

My action was prompted by something that had happened a few days earlier. I had “sticker shock” when I stepped on my bathroom scale and saw that I had gained 6 pounds, likely caused by weeks of holiday feasting and slacking on my exercise. No wonder my pants felt slightly uncomfortable around the waistline!

So to undo this, I was taking the stairs. As my footsteps echoed, though, I soon realized that it was lonely in the stairwell. Why weren’t others taking the stairs? Maybe like me, others wondered if there was any real impact from taking this simple step.

I noticed how most buildings discourage people from taking the stairs. Often you can enter the stairs only through hidden side doors. To find them, you have to look for a red fire exit sign. This gives the brain the wrong signals — we think the stairs are not to be used routinely.

If you do make the effort to walk, you find that stairwells are the least welcoming places imaginable: cold, dim, damp, and either concrete gray or painted puke green or jaundice yellow.

Things can be different. At Methodist hospital, senior administrators James Robinson and Anupam Lahiri have created “Stairway to Health.” The five-story building has staircase wall murals painted with pleasing colors of garden green and rose red. Music plays from wall speakers, and encouraging quotes are written on the underside of the stairs and the walls: “2 flights of stairs climbed per day can lead to a 6 lb. weight loss over 1 year,” says one, or “Just 7 minutes of stair climbing/day can reduce the risk of heart attack by 50%.”

As you trudge higher, and you begin to pant and feel a cramp in your leg, the quotes become more inspirational — “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” by Gandhi — or a terse one: “Burn calories and not carbon.”

Methodist South has hit on a way to make the healthy thing both easy (well, easier anyway) and fun. The data show there has been a 63 percent increase in foot traffic on the staircases since they have been aesthetically renovated.

For those who have retired, my 75-year-old father has taken up walking the stairs, too. On cold winter days, he has substituted his daily walk or a visit to the gym by walking up and down the foyer stairs at our house.

Walking up the stairs or exercising, I’ve discovered, is as much a mental activity as a physical one. Making up your mind is actually the hardest part; doing it in fact can be fun. The environment also affects us. So if we create the right atmosphere at the workplace, as well as a culture to encourage physical activity, then people will be more likely to make it a habit.

Taking such ideas from an individual to a business to the community was exactly what key local political, business and hospital leaders discussed at the Memphis Community Health Forum organized by the Memphis Chamber of Commerce.

Bryan Jordan, CEO of First Horizon, talked about how he has been carrying a step counter in his pocket. Phil Trenary, president of Greater Memphis Chamber, encouraged other businesses to do the same.

I too am measuring my steps. With a new smartphone app, I track my daily steps, walking and running, and flights climbed.

And as for making staircases more pleasing, here is an idea: In addition to wall paintings, better lighting and enjoyable music, we can add some pleasing fragrant smell. Something like chocolate chip cookies baking. But wait, will that just make me hungry?

Source : Commercial Appeal