Starting off on the right foot

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Whether we like it or not, the arrival of January reminds us that we can have a fresh start with fitness. So why not embrace it feet first?

From setting strict diets to signing up for pricy gym memberships, we often make abrupt changes at the start of a new year that fail be a catalyst for sustained improvement. Last year, rather than setting an overambitious resolution, I opted for something simple: take more stairs.

I wanted to feel fitter one step at a time. It was one of best decisions I have made and one of the only resolutions I have ever maintained.

Modern infrastructure does not promote it, but taking the stairs is incredibly easy to incorporate into daily life. Most of us are on autopilot, opting for escalators and elevators whenever and wherever available. But I became aware of all the times I had to choose the steps instead of a more efficient mode of transport. Call it “stair mindfulness.”

From the workplace to a friend’s apartment, from the shopping mall to the parking lot, we have opportunities throughout our day to select the healthier alternative. StepJockey, a U.K.-based digital health and property business, encourages its corporate clients to think of the world as a gym that can become “alive” through exercise. If you limit your concept of what the gym can mean to only the physical building itself, you miss out on the playfulness that exercise can offer.

As I started my new hobby, I became aware of how stairs can be intimidating. From the awkward glances given to me by those on downward-moving escalators as I walked up the adjacent stairs, to the former football player revealing that his coach deemed the StairMaster machine as “punishment,” the positivity surrounding stairs is slim.

The truth is that stair climbing is one of the healthiest full-body exercises we can do for ourselves. It is especially great for the lower body. According to the Harvard Medical School, stair climbing “burns twice the calories of walking, and it strengthens your heart, lungs, and muscles.”

The act of carrying the weight of your entire body vertically is what makes it so gravitationally grueling — and beneficial for our bodies. Harvard Medical School goes on to explain that stair climbing “helps build muscle strength and new bone. It also strengthens your heart and your lungs and releases heart-healthy hormones.” Increased muscle strength and bone density from this weight-bearing exercise can be an effective method of combating osteoporosis.

I also began to appreciate how sustainable stair climbing could be. Its ability to seamlessly integrate into both indoor and outdoor living spaces allowed me to practice just about anywhere, even for only a few minutes.

A couple steps at home, a couple hundred at the park and a couple thousand at the stadium, hunting down staircases became an adventure on its own. I also liked that climbing required zero training, set up or specialized gear. Best of all, it is totally free.

Over time, I began to enjoy stairs so much that I took it on as a sport. Yes, stair climbing is an organized sport.

Professional athletes compete at the world’s tallest and most iconic buildings, including the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, the Eiffel Tower, the Taipei 101 and the International Commerce Center in Hong Kong. And if you are curious, elite racers climb anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 steps, often crossing the finish line in under 15 minutes. Despite burning calves and stale stairwell air, propelling your body upward, straight into the sky can be truly uplifting.

If you are so inclined to take on bigger climbs, St. Paul is a hilly hotbed for outdoor, public stairways. In warmer weather, check out the Walnut Street stairway and the Lawton Street staircase. On dreary days, StairMaster machines or a plain, old indoor stairwell can offer a remarkable cardiovascular workout.

This upcoming year, I will compete in my sixth stair climb race for charity. I look forward to continuing this life-changing resolution far beyond 2018.

As 2019 begins, I encourage you to embrace your inner Rocky. The view will be worth it.


Carly Ettinger is a trend forecaster and writer from Minneapolis. Her experiences living and learning in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and most recently New York, have shaped her fascination with studying cultural trends in health, fitness and lifestyle.