When my husband Bob and I went house hunting some years ago, I thought it might be nice to live in a ranch. Now, if by “ranch” you think I’m talking about two acres and a mule on the lone prairie, you’ve got your ranch house mixed up with your sod house. I don’t think there are too many sod houses around anymore, although I have seen a Hobbit house in Madison whose sloping roof is covered with grass.
At the time we were looking at houses, I found ranch houses attractive for at least two reasons, one of which was how easy it was go get from room to room without having to negotiate stairs, the other being the fact that the house I grew up in was a ranch. I loved that house. If I could have, I would not have sold it after my mother died. I’m not sure what I would have done with it, but maybe my daughter could have found a job in the Quad Cities, and lived in Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Davenport.
Alas, it was not to be. For one thing, I had a feeling that when I kept emphasizing how much we might need a one-level house, Bob thought I was leaning too hard on the “when we get too old to go up and down stairs” factor. He also found it just this side of creepy when I announced one day that, should I ever win the lottery, I would have an exact replica of my childhood home constructed for the two of us on a nice, big lot right here in Dubuque. After all, I inherited the blueprints from my parents. It could be done.
But I don’t buy lottery tickets, so he doesn’t have to worry.
Now here we are, living in a 1920s bungalow, with dormer windows and stairs. There is the main floor. Fifteen steps up is the upper floor. Twelve steps down (from the main floor) is the mostly-finished basement. If, God forbid, you have to go from the top floor to the basement, that’s a total of twenty-seven steps.
So this is how my day often goes, especially on the weekend: Wake up in bedroom on upper floor. Go down 27 steps to the basement, to feed cat and take shower. Take 12 steps up to kitchen to prepare breakfast. Go back down 12 steps to start laundry while waiting for egg to cook. Come back up 12 steps to eat. Go up 15 steps to brush teeth. Go down 27 steps to put washed laundry into dryer and start another load in the washer. Go up 27 steps to get dressed.
Remember the skirt I want to wear is hanging in the laundry room. Go down 27 steps to iron and bring it back up 27 steps and put it on. Head into my study (on the upper floor) to check e-mail and remember my special using-the-computer glasses are in my work bag, which is, of course, on the main floor. Go down 15 steps to retrieve them. Go back up 15 steps to read e-mail. Start to reply to friend’s message, urging her to read the book I just finished. Go down/up 15 steps to fetch the book because I can’t possibly spell the author’s name without it. (Remember too late I could have looked this up in Amazon.)
Head downstairs again, getting as far as the landing (6 steps) before remembering I’m still wearing the anti-migraine glasses, and the clear ones are up in my study. Go back up to get them (6 steps), then all the way down to the main floor (15). Collapse on the sofa for a while.
Then the laundry needs tending to again, and the dishes need doing, and the sheets need to come off the bed, and guess what? They are all. On. Different. Floors.
I know about the studies. Maybe you do, too. One says that people who sit too much during the day die younger. No, really. The National Institutes of Health even has a terrible name for it: Sedentary Death Syndrome. Holy cow! One article in a real medical journal calls SDS “a major public health burden due to its causing multiple chronic diseases and millions of premature deaths each year.”
This new finding has already made its way into all the magazines I read, which tell me to stand up when the phone rings, stand up when someone enters my office, stand up when I need to blow my nose, and just generally be vertical. (May I just ask: With a stair-filled house like mine, how is it I developed a chronic disease like daily headaches?)
The latest briefing on the scary-news front is the danger of napping, and no, I’m not making this up. A thirteen-year British study reportedly “suggests” daytime napping may be a contributor to mortality, the word we in the medical community like to use instead of, you know, “death.”
This has the popular press frothing at the mouth, promoting standing desks, walking meetings, and contraptions that require you to jog on a treadmill in order to power your computer. (I’m using one right now.) (Just kidding.)
I’ve got a better idea. Buy a house with stairs! Lots of stairs! And also, be forgetful! Leave your keys in your pants pocket in the upstairs closet, and your cell phone beeping sadly next to the remote deep in the cushions of the sofa! Before long you’ll have thighs of steel and a heart that, if it doesn’t kick off from too much of this going up and down, should keep ticking forever.