Many years ago I recall John Durnin, Professor of Physiology at University of Glasgow, scoffing at the concept of encouraging stair climbing as a useful form of exercise, remarking that one would need to spend a lot of time stepping up to make any difference to fitness or caloric expenditure. For decades I too felt that climbing stairs was an “additional” extra and not a prime message for physical activity until I started to read the emerging evidence on the dangers of sedentary behaviour and identifying opportunities for breaking up sitting time.

Stair climbing is classed as “vigorous” exercise using around 8.6 to 9.6 METS and therefore uses more calories than jogging. Ascending the stairs uses around 3 times more calories than descending but both burn more energy than standing in the lift. One report suggests the average ascent takes 135 seconds.

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A good deal of work has been undertaken in how to prompt people to use the stairs as a means to initiating easy, every day ways to become more active. There is now an extensive literature by Frank Eves, Nanette Mutrie and others that have demonstrated effective and inexpensive routes to prompting workers and shoppers to take the stairs by using point-of-choice prompts. These interventions are aimed at promoting regular stair climbing as part of everyday life and indicate that such prompts outlive their deployment in community settings and extend beyond the choice point at which they are placed.

This month @thescpn is featuring some of the poster prompts illustrating a diversity of messages, most of which have been developed with user communities and tested in real world settings.2. HS_StairClimbingPosters A4 11-122

Mountain goals (comparing stair climbing to bagging a MUNRO) have been popular and seem to appeal to goal driven, competitive individuals who miss the heathery clad slopes whilst beavering away in their office blocks. Health prompts (helps reduce cardiovascular disease, keeps you fit, daily exercise) may appeal to or re-enforce existing messages for the health conscious. Building active stair use into everyday life deserves poster messages that say “Well done”. Stair climbing is of course free exercise. Messages on individual steps (stair risers) are fun and can look really colourful- almost playground stuff and a reminder of hopscotch.

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The prompts I like best are those that say “Stairs this Way”- the simple stuff i.e. where we can actually find the stairs and the sense of an escort to a facility that is available for use and indeed users are welcome. I have met too many hotel stairs hidden from view with seedy, dirty surroundings and locks on the doors you need to use to get out.

elevator wraps

Our recent #healthymeetings showcased the annual meeting of the UK Society for Behavioural Medicine where stair information was clearly provided – perhaps an amendment is needed to our scorecard.

Current research shows that in places of work, stair use is influenced by floor level of work (personally I tackle 6 floors with ease but not more), time available and the load being carried. In public settings, such as shopping centres, it has been observed that women, older people and those with children or carrying bags are less likely to take the stairs. Clearly more help to facilitate and support these folks is needed given that they are the same people who, at a population level, are less active overall. The good news, however, is that stair prompts impact on people from a range of socio-economic environments and that they work for those who are overweight.

The European Code Against Cancer has a clear message on physical activity which includes reducing sedentary behaviour. A 5 minute break can mean 3 flights of stairs and a walk along the corridor… add that into your regular loo breaks and feel virtuous! Don’t scoff at the opportunity to #alwaystakethestairs.

– Professor Annie S. Anderson

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