Friday, February 05, 2010

Stairs and Why We Ascend Them

My wife Vanessa recently told me about a TED talk she saw that reported habits of octogenarians (those who lived 8 decades). She told me that one of the commonalities was having exercise worked into their lives.

Although views on what makes you healthy seem to change over time (particularly concerning diet), physical activity seems to be uncontroversially good for you.

One of the things I liked about my postdoc at Queen's University was that it was easy to have exercise built into my schedule. I walked to work, and my office was on the sixth floor. That's high enough to be some good exertion but low enough to be doable several times a day. I tried to always use the stairs.

At Carleton the door-to-door walk is one hour. A two-hour round trip commute is too much for me, most days, even if it's gorgeous out, which, for many months of the year, it's not. So I drive. The other thing is that I work on the 22nd floor. Not a walker.

But I got thinking. Why not walk up to the sixth floor and then take the elevator? I'm going to try to do this. I will make exceptions when I'm with someone, or I'm in a rush, or not feeling well, etc. Furthermore, I have an ambition to add one floor every semester. So next semester I will ascend 7 flights of stairs before getting onto the elevator.

With obesity a big problem, there is a push to get people using stairs. One thing that's getting in the way is, believe it or not, aesthetics. People find some staircases inviting and others not. The staircase pictured (One of the two identical symmetrical main staircases within the main hall of the Amtsgericht Berlin in Berlin Mitte near the Alexanderplatz) is gorgeous, and looks (to me anyway) like a lot of fun to go up and down. But modern architectural customs have rendered staircases barren, windowless, hard, and ugly. Why? Because they are fire exits. Fire exits need to be free of anything flammable, and need to have heavy, ugly fire doors. Uninviting.

It's a major modern challenge to make great staircases that people want to use, while at the same time maintaining adherence to fire codes.

Here is a link to some incredibly fun and creative staircases:
http://www.zuzafun.com/cool-staircases
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3 comments:

raminarya said...

Good point. Most stairs are not really "inviting". I wonder how much of a difference it would make if they looked better. I wish we could do some sort of study, comparing two otherwise similar buildings

Jim Davies said...

Such research has, apparently, been done. See http://www.di.net/news/archive/using_design_to_fight_obesity/

jt_jacket said...

To your first point in the post, I think that with seniors, exercise in the form of mall-walking, "silver sneakers" programs, etc. also provides a great social outlet.