What would it take to get you to use the stairs instead of the escalator at your local mall? A team of British researchers has found that healthy messages printed on stair risers attract climbers and might even encourage them to descend the stairs later.
The riser messages “Take the Stairs” and “7 Minutes of Stair Climbing Daily Protects Your Heart” increased climbing on the staircase by 190 percent and boosted climbing on a nearby staircase with no messages by 52 percent, according to Oliver Webb of Kingston University and Frank Eves of the University of Birmingham.
The study, which appears in the September/October issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, included nearly 82,000 pedestrians observed over six weeks in a shopping mall in England.
The researchers printed the messages on one of two staircases separated by plants and a pair of escalators. At first, they decorated the target staircase with a colorful design, which did little to attract climbers. After adding the message, however, the researchers saw a significant shift in shopper traffic on the target stairs.
Still, Webb and Eves say that climbing one flight of stairs is not a surefire prescription for good health. They wanted to see if the message would stick with the shoppers and prod them toward the stairs—even when the message itself was out of sight.
In fact, the researchers report a 25-percent increase in shoppers traveling down the targeted staircase, suggesting that the message “can encourage pedestrians to use stairs on subsequent occasions,” Webb said.
Researchers have studied other ways to encourage stair climbing in public places, including artwork hung by the steps and music played in office stairwells. The long-term effect of any changes, including signs, is still uncertain, according to Sandra Ham, a health statistician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who has participated in some of these studies.
Stairwell changes “may be more effective during the first few months of motivational messages, because the novelty of the messages may wear off over time and people would go back to their patterns of using the elevator,” she said.
Nevertheless, for those who stick with it, regular stair-climbing burns considerable calories, as Eves reported in another recent study. He and his colleagues found that a 175-pound man walking up a normal flight of home stairs eight times a day could burn off the equivalent of four days’ worth of food every year.
Reference: Webb OJ, Eves FF. Effects of environmental changes in a stair climbing intervention: generalization to stair descent. Am J Health Promo 22(1), 2007.
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