Spring 2019

Stairway to Fitness

Why go to a gym when you can take the stairs at One Kneeland Street?

By Laura Ferguson

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Cheryl Coke (at right) and Therese Kohlman, both of the periodontology department, on their lunch-hour stair trek. Photo: Anna Miller

I like this particular stairwell,” said Robert Kasberg, as he proudly showed a visitor the landing at the fourteenth floor at the School of Dental Medicine, and it’s easy to see why. All the stairs are brightly painted in contrasting white and orange, as they are from the eighth to top fifteenth floors, awash with natural light.

Here, building and sky converge. Massive windows frame a rarely glimpsed wide-angle view of Boston. One can see not only Chinatown but corners of the Theater District, Downtown Crossing—that’s the tip of Old South Church’s historic spire beyond the Paramount Center—and, in the distance, there’s Logan’s air-traffic control tower, with just a sliver of the Atlantic visible beyond.

“Once you get past the eighth floor, it opens up—it’s like being in the mountains and getting above the tree line,” said Kasberg, associate dean of admissions and student affairs. “All of a sudden, you get a vista. At night—and anytime the weather changes—it’s always amazing.”

Photo: Anna Miller

For Kasberg and others at the School of Dental Medicine, that sweeping view is one of the many perks that come with a daily devotion to taking the stairs instead of the elevator—often climbing all fifteen floors at once, some 360 stairs. These “stair masters” incorporate them into their daily workout, building muscle strength, uncluttering thoughts, and managing stress. Their experiences are buttressed by research that demonstrates how even short intervals of stair-climbing, folded into the workday, can improve cardiovascular health.

Cheryl Coke, a dental assistant in periodontology, and her colleague Therese Kohlman, periodontology’s department administrator, factor the flights into their lunch break. By 12:25 they are usually riding the elevator down to the first floor and then start climbing the stairs back to at least the twelfth floor. “When Therese first started,” Coke said, “she was going to five and six, and one day I said, you can go to the next floor up and the next floor after that—so she started, she made it, and she has never stopped.”

Coke admits it’s easy to get winded—the two have to stop occasionally to catch their breath. But each step brings her closer to her walking goal. Slimming down, she said, was her first incentive for getting serious about the stairs—and she shed some twenty pounds. She realizes, though, that the stairs are also great for her overall health. “The stairs, they really get my heart pumping,” she said. And Coke feels her mood shift whenever she rounds the corner to the eighth floor and sees the upbeat orange stairs and the panorama of Boston. “Orange is my favorite color,” she said. “I know we only have four more flights to go, and I am motivated to just keep on going.”

Mark Gonthier, executive associate dean of the dental school, bounds up fifteen flights every morning to his office on the school’s top floor with the added weight of his backpack. He rarely takes the elevator. His goal is fifty flights a day.

“It is often hard to get in as much cardiovascular activity as I did when I was younger, so I appreciate how they help me stay fit,” he said. “I know that when I take the stairs, the endorphins get pumping and that helps my mood. I’m getting my oxygen. I’m feeling energized and enthusiastic.”

As for Kasberg, he recommends the climb “to as many people as I can”—and especially to elevator holdouts. “I don’t understand why anybody who enjoys physical fitness doesn’t use the stairs,” he said. And he practices what he preaches: After early-morning exercises at home, followed by a half-hour walk to the commuter rail (“rain, snow, or shine”) and another half-hour walk from Back Bay to the dental school, he arrives by 6:30 a.m. and ascends and descends the full fifteen flights not once but twice—and two steps at a time—all before his work day begins.

“It’s like our own gymnasium here,” said Kasberg, who aims to climb all fifteen floors four times daily. “You just do it because it’s habitual,” he said. “It’s like brushing teeth—you work it into the everyday.”

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