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Fitness Bound

Street-Smart Key to Daily Workout

September 30, 2002|J. MICHAEL KENNEDY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For an office worker, getting exercise during the workday can be difficult. Some companies provide gyms, but that means never leaving the office. Running during the lunch break is another option, but some of us aren't the running types.

But there's a happy medium. I'd heard of a group here at the office that uses the landscape of downtown Los Angeles as an exercise vehicle, climbing area steps for an intense cardiovascular workout in less than an hour. In all, these walkers cover slightly more than two miles, seeing a lot of the city as they alternate between stair climbing and brisk walking during their circuit.

Not only is this type of trek good for the heart, it also strengthens legs and endurance. And it can be done almost anywhere there are steps--from a building stairwell to the famed Fourth Street Stairs in Santa Monica.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that if people spend at least 10 minutes a day walking up and down stairs, they could lose as much as 10 pounds over the course of a year. For some of us, that would go a long way toward shedding a paunch. But elevators and escalators have made stair climbing a lost art. People take elevators to go up a single floor these days.

The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine once did a study at a suburban Baltimore mall in which fewer than 5% of the 17,000 shoppers observed took the stairs rather than using the escalator.

*

Because I liked the concept of dividing the day with exercise, I decided to give the walk/climb a try. After changing into gym clothes in the company locker room, I met the group--all women--at the corner of 2nd and Spring streets and we set off at a brisk pace on a hot September day. Leading the band of six people was copy editor Mary Forgione, a fitness buff and marathoner who not only selects the route, but can reel off the number of steps the group must negotiate--that day, a total of 354.

"The first part is the hardest," she said. "If you get through that, the rest is pretty easy."

We made our way through the lower part of downtown, walking several gritty blocks until we reached the Angel's Flight stairwell directly across from Grand Central Market.

Up we climbed the Angel's Flight stairway, with Forgione emphasizing a steady pace for the best possible exercise. After 151 steps--and with me gasping for breath--we reached the top and walked quickly through the California and Wells Fargo plazas--and several more blocks beyond that--before finally arriving at the steps to the Los Angeles Public Library.

At this point, the talk turned to the upcoming YMCA-sponsored race to the top of the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast. This Friday and Saturday, hard-core stair climbers will tackle the 1,500 steps in the 75-story building. Last year's winner, a Los Angeles County lifeguard, made the climb in 9 minutes 26 seconds, or roughly three steps a second.

*

We, however, went down and up the 102 steps outside the library, then past the construction site of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Through it all, I tried to keep my posture erect because I'd read that being bent at the waist will cause distress and undue fatigue during and after climbing. I was slightly winded anyway, but the walking between stair climbing allowed for recovery time.

We wound our way around the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and back to the Civic Center subway stop, where we descended, then ascended the 76 steps that lead to the Red Line.

It was on this leg of the circuit that I reached my highest heart rate--a count of 169. From there, it was an easy two-block walk back to the office, a time to cool off. The event's elapsed time was just under 45 minutes.

According to my heart-rate monitor, I'd burned 562 calories. I'd been to parts of Los Angeles I hadn't seen in awhile, had some good conversations and gotten back in time to grab a sandwich.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Snapshot:

Walking/stair climbing

Duration of activity: 44 minutes, 35 seconds

Calories burned*: 562

Heart rate: Average, 140 beats per minute; high, 169

Target zone: 110 to 140 beats per minute

Time in target zone*: 24 minutes, 35 seconds

* This information was obtained using a heart-rate monitor. Time in the target heart-rate zone is a measure of the intensity of the workout. Target zone varies based on age and individual heart rate.

*

J. Michael Kennedy can be reached at j.michael.kennedy@latimes. com.

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