Americans spend billions of dollars on exercise equipment in an effort to lose and manage their weight. And, just as with fad diets, trends in exercise equipment come and go. Free weights, Nautilus equipment, NordicTracks, steppers, bands, inflatable balls, medicine balls, trampolines and leg and wrist weights are just a few of the most popular items.
Too often a lot of money is spent on equipment that is never used or is quickly forgotten underneath a pile of clothes or in the catacombs of a closet.
Enter the often underappreciated set of stairs. If you have access to stairs, you have exercise equipment that doesn't cost extra money, never needs to be put away, doesn't require a separate room and requires no special clothing to use — yet is a great cardiovascular workout and fat burner.
You can use stairs mindfully or mindlessly as you go about your day. If you get in the habit of using the stairs instead of the elevator when you're out — and not avoiding the stairs at home until you absolutely have to climb them — you've got a quick, intense workout. Do it often enough, and you'll notice results.
Recently a reader shared this story: "I'm 72 and tend to put on weight easily. On a recent cruise, however, I managed to gain no weight despite eating all I wanted. My savior was the stairs! We were on the 11th deck. I used only the stairs unless it was an absolute necessity."
Not everyone is able to climb stairs, but many of us could with some conditioning. Taking it slowly, you can get fit enough to use stairs as part of your active lifestyle. Perhaps you'll need to start slowly, climbing just one step at a time and taking rest breaks. There are no rules about how quickly you have to move. If you're so out of breath that you wouldn't be able to have a conversation, you're pushing too hard. Slow down until you're comfortable again. Then, as you get more fit, you can challenge yourself a bit more.
Here are some tips to help you use the stairs to achieve weight loss, fitness and health:
• Take frequent, short breaks during the day and walk up and down at least one flight of stairs each time. I climb steps between seeing patients.
• Find out where the stairs are in places you frequent, such as parking garages, malls, hotels and doctors' offices.
• Get in the habit of asking where the stairs are if you're not familiar with the building you're in.
• If you have stairs available at home or work, set a daily goal for climbing them. I have a goal of climbing at least eight flights daily. It has become a game for me.
• Find reasons to go up the stairs. Some people collect items that need to go upstairs at the bottom of the stairs to save trips. It's much better to carry everything up individually.
• If you're buying or planning to build a home, consider one with stairs.
Remember, the more you climb, the longer you'll be able to climb. Stairs help keep you more fit, leaner and more physically independent.
Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send questions to her at email@example.com.