A team of British researchers has suggested that healthy messages like 'Take the Stairs' and '7 Minutes of Stair Climbing Daily Protects Your Heart' printed on stair risers attract climbers and might even encourage them to descend the stairs later.
The study, which appears in the September/October issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, included almost 82,000 pedestrians observed over six weeks in a shopping mall in England.
According to Oliver Webb of Kingston University and Frank Eves of the University of Birmingham, these messages increased climbing on the staircase by 190 percent and boosted climbing on a nearby staircase with no messages by 52 percent.
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 colourful 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 definite prescription for good health. They wanted to see if the message would stick with the shoppers and push them toward the stairs, even when the message itself was out of sight.
The researchers found an increase of 25 percent in people walking down the staircase, although the messages are not visible from the top of the stairs. Webb and Eves say this suggests that stair messages would encourage people to develop the habit of taking the stairs.
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,' Ham said.
Nevertheless, for those who stick with it, regular stair-climbing burns considerable calories, as Eves reported in another recent study.
Webb and Eves estimate that an 80-kilogram man walking up a flight of stairs eight times a day for a year would burn off the equivalent of four days' intake of food.