Posting simple signs might get people to take the stairs more often

What does it take to make people more physically active? Maybe just a sign.

Signs posted in buildings prompting people to take the stairs instead of the elevators proved successful in getting them to hoof it, a study finds. Signs were placed in three multi-story buildings in New York: a three-story health clinic, an eight-story academic site and a 10-story affordable housing building.

The signs featured a pictogram of a man walking up stairs with text that read, “Burn calories, not electricity. Take the stars.” The submessage read, “Walking up the stairs just 2 minutes a day helps prevent weight gain. It also helps the environment.” The signs were on every floor of the health clinic and affordable housing unit and in the lobby of the academic building. A health education event was also scheduled.

Researchers tallied 18,462 trips up and down the stairs at the various sites. Right after the signs were posted, Stair use increased 9.2% at the health clinic, 34.7% at the academic building and 33.6% at the affordable housing site.


At the health clinic and affordable housing units the signs were left in place, and increased stair use was pretty much maintained at a nine-month follow-up.

“Human-made environments in everyday life offer numerous opportunities for maintaining health, controlling weight and preventing disease,” said lead author Dr. Karen Lee in a news release. Lee, with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, added, “One of those health opportunities is stair climbing, a vigorous activity which can burn more calories than jogging.”

The study was published online in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.