by John Post, MD
Years ago I heard the saying, "you're not old until you start using the stairs to get out of the pool." It's one of those things that after a while takes hold in our brains until we come to believe it as fact. True or not, I always leave the water directly from my lane with the old push-up technique. And I'm not what you call young.
Another one I learned in pre-med goes like this: "Take the stairs and add a day to your life." This approach can fit well into a triathlete's world, especially in the off-season, when "real" workouts are decreased.
Famed triathlon coach Joe Friel told me many years ago to look at it as if airport stairs were put there just for me. Since then, rarely have I stepped on a moving sidewalk or escalator at the airport. A third member of the discussion admitted that if he had a layover, he saw the stairs as an opportunity to get stronger. He'd go up and down them like mini hill repeats. When asked if passersby would think him a little off in the head, he'd repeat a line from Michael J. Fox, "what other people think of me is not my concern." And he did get stronger—and faster.
En route to better fitness
So, how do you incorporate this "fitness anywhere" philosophy into everyday life? If you have time between flights when traveling, rather than sit and stare at the TV, find an empty gate and do some push ups, crunches, leg levers, planks, hip thrusts, stretching—you name it. An increasing number of airports have actual gym facilities on site. Why not take advantage of them?
The other side of the coin is rest. More than one of us is chronically short on sleep, and the opportunity to get some unexpected shut-eye in a pod hotel not only feels good but is good for your overall health and well-being. Atlanta, Dallas, and Philadelphia all have these 56-square feet personal spaces complete with pull-out day bed, desk and chair, and in-room workstation.
Make routine do double-duty
Everyday life is full of mini fitness-boosting opportunities, including how far away from the door of the supermarket you park to shunning the elevator in office buildings. Park an extra couple hundred meters from the Safeway front door. Pack those groceries carefully and carry them yourself—no shopping cart—the extra distance to your car. If you don’t live too far from the market put your items in a backpack and jump on your bike.
During my junior year med school clerkships, while training for my first Boston Marathon, I learned the hard way that the hospital’s west wing, where our patients were located, had 16 floors. Before getting our assigned patients, my friend Dennis and I agreed we wouldn't use the elevator. Ever. For the whole six weeks. We were assigned to West Wing 15, on the 15th floor of the hospital. When I crested Heartbreak Hill in Boston I thought about "WW15" and just smiled.
And it can be contagious. I had to smile a few months ago when flying with our sons, both in their mid 20's. We were connecting to another flight on our way to Sequoia National Park, the boys about 10 feet ahead of me. Without even thinking, they chose the stairs over the escalator. In a 2013 article in Runner's World titled "In Defense of Stairs," Alex Hutchinson quotes a Swiss study in which participants were encouraged to take the stairs and after 12 weeks noted an increase in average aerobic fitness of 9.2 percent.
On the commuting front, ask yourself if you can occasionally bike or even run to work? It might be a bit of an organizational challenge the first time, or you might need to get up a few minutes earlier, but I assure you you'll arrive at the office refreshed and with a clear mind.
It snows where I live. Most of my neighbors have their driveways plowed and the guy with the blade on his pick-up on speed dial. We do not. I’ve always considered the chance to push snow around as a bonus workout. It might even substitute for that bike ride I was supposed to take since 25 mm tires and six inches of snow make for a bad combination. Splitting and stacking firewood, raking leaves, anything you can do at home to expend a few calories works. Did I mention the pull-up bar in the doorway?
Look for opportunities in your daily life to accomplish a task while contributing to your overall fitness at the same time. And when you have a little time between flights, consider poking around in search of an empty gate for a little bonus core work. Channel your inner Michael J. Fox, get in there and start doing pushups. And don't be surprised if others want to join you, the conversation turning to, "so when’s your next triathlon?"
Written for Ironman.com October 27, 2015