On the weekend, Sam and I found ourselves on this giant escalator ramp called a MOVATOR. We were picking up a cake and samosas for a baby shower for mutual friends, and the grocery store we went to is on the second floor. This MOVATOR locks you and your cart in place to go down to the ground floor. (How do you say this? Moo-va-tor? Moe-vay-ter? moo-va-TOR? Try saying it without sounding like an ominous robot).
Both of us tend to scoot around the world at a fast clip, and being on the MOVATOR ground us to a halt. Which got us talking again about the discussion Sam blogged about a couple of weeks ago about walking on escalators. That conversation started out as a bit of good-natured griping on Facebook about our preference for scooting up the left side of the escalator and wondering why everyone doesn’t walk.
Well, as Sam captured in her post, people told us a LOT of reasons why many people don’t walk on escalators, and we were reminded, again, that we have a lot more capacity and health than many people. And that no one should ever be judging anyone else’s mobility, hidden disability, pain, fatigue etc. by their external appearance. Absolutely true. And… I was still feeling nagged by my original sense that escalators (and MOVATORS!) are, for me, an overall cultural trend where we gravitate effortlessly to doing the things that make our lives easier, that make us move our bodies less. And I am a big fan of doing things to make my life a little HARDER whenever I can.
I’m very clear that there are many people whose bodily limits make all sorts of functional assists important and necessary — that’s not what I’m talking about. And, I live on the third floor of a condo building with two easily accessed staircases — and almost every single person in my condo building takes the elevator down from the third floor to the first. Of course sometimes you’re carrying things, or are fatigued, or it’s painful to take the stairs. But half the time, it’s literally people in gym clothes, getting ready to go work out, who take the elevator. Because they can.
There was a good piece last week on CBC Radio’s The Current about treadmills, and how they were originally instruments of torture for prisoners, the ultimate hard labour with no satisfaction of producing anything. Fascinating, and funny.
They also interviewed researcher Dan Buettner, who has studied what he calls “Blue Zones,” the places in the world where people live the longest. He says that people with the longest life spans stay healthy when they integrate movement organically into their days — not carving fitness off into a category of activity on its own. The people who live the longest, he says, live in environments that “nudge them into physical activity every 20 minutes or so.” This nudging doesn’t have to be something big — it’s small things like gardening, or walking down the street, or hanging clothes outside instead of putting them in the dryer. He advocates for getting rid of things that make your life “easier” so you can add more organic movement — like taking transit instead of driving, for example, or who using a hand mixer instead of a stand mixer while cooking. Leaving your laundry set up in the basement instead of moving it to the second floor so you have to carry clothes up and down a few flights of stairs a few times a week.
There’s a great video from Dr. Mike Evans about how these moment-to-moment choices that make us move can make a huge difference to our health. Sam blogged a little bit about this last month.
The world absolutely needs automation and supports so that people who need them can have them. I am personally trying to get my condo board to install automatic doors right now to make our building more accessible. And, for many of us, there are a lot of opportunities to integrate more, small movements into our lives if we look for them, if we don’t just punch the button for the elevator because it’s there.
In one of my roles, I teach in a newish building in downtown Toronto attached to a major hospital. The designers of the building wanted to encourage people to connect to people in other departments and on other floors, along with promoting health. So they put a beautiful staircase right in the centre. It’s one of my favourite features of all of the places I work.
And one of the things I love about this staircase is that it’s such an unusual thing to do that the fire code required that the builders put a *second* staircase, right beside it, behind a sealed door. Because it’s so rare to put a staircase in the centre.
So that’s my mantra. Put the stairs in the centre and take them when you can. Push the cart yourself. Carry a backpack. Walk to the store. Shovel instead of snow-blowing. Leave your laundry in an inconvenient place. Ride your bike to work. Make muffins using a wooden spoon, not a mixer. Make your life just a little bit harder — and make your own “blue zone.”