How Signs Could Get People To Take The Stairs

There’s an easy way to encourage people to take the stairs instead of an elevator: put up a sign reminding them to.

Previous studies have found out that signs work, but those efforts didn’t differentiate between up and down trips and didn’t include a variety of building types and populations. And the studies didn’t last long enough. So researchers did a new study, in three New York structures—a three-story health clinic, an eight-story academic building, and a 10-story affordable housing site.

They established a baseline of how many trips left from or returned to the lobby. Then this sign went up: “Burn calories, not electricity. Take the stairs!”

A week later, significantly more people did just that. And nine months later the researchers checked to see if stair use was still up. And it was. The healthcare center still had a 20 percent increase in vertical climbs. And the affordable housing unit sustained a 42 percent overall increase in stair use. The research was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. [Karen K. Lee et al, Promoting Routine Stair Use: Evaluating the Impact of a Stair Prompt Across Buildings]

New York City has since distributed thousands of such stair signs to city buildings—a nearly free intervention for a healthier population.