That sort of access has already been shown to
increase physical activity in places like subway stations and
The report also offers the first real evidence that having natural
light in stairwells is important, as architects had suggested,
according to a statement from the New York City Department of Health
and Mental Hygiene.
The health department's Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and
Tobacco Control conducted the study, which only included city
"Adults spend a large portion of their life in their workplace, and
having access to and incorporating physical activity into one's day
can have a positive impact on health," the department's statement
Ryan Richard Ruff, director of the Research & Evaluation Unit at the
health department, led the study. He and his coauthors analyzed
assessments of 14 New York City buildings alongside physical
activity surveys of their 1,300 total employees.
Before the study, small signs were placed at elevator call buttons
and stairway entrances reminding employees to "burn calories, not
electricity" by using the stairs.
The prompts included information about the benefits of taking the
stairs, such as on personal health and the environment.
More than half of participants said they climbed at least one flight
of stairs at work per day. Men and people who weighed less tended to
take the stairs more often than women and heavier people.
Employees were about three times more likely to use stairs in
buildings with stair prompts, the authors wrote in the journal
Stairwells that had natural lighting and were visible from lobby
entrances were also more frequently used than their darker or more
People who worked on higher floors were less likely to take the
stairs. The authors suggest a way around this by encouraging
employees to take the stairs for at least part of the journey and
take the elevator the rest of the way.
"These types of actions are necessary as today nearly 60 percent of
NYC adults and 40 percent of school children are overweight or
obese," according to the health department statement. "Regular
physical activity and healthy eating are key factors in addressing
the epidemic, and the scientific evidence now tells us that creating
environments that support people in the behavior changes they are
trying to make helps people to be successful at accomplishing these
[to top of second column]
Often people have access to stairs but don't choose to use them,
Ruff and coauthor Karen Lee, a senior advisor in the health
department's Division of Chronic Disease Prevention, said. Sometimes
stairs are restricted for security reasons, but building security
could incorporate keycard or code access to employee floors to get
around the issue.
"This is carefully developed research that provides additional
evidence that relatively small interventions can increase the
everyday use of stairs in buildings," Craig Zimring, an architecture
researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, told
Reuters Health. He was not involved in the study.
"It is further evidence that thoughtful design can increase
incidental physical activity," he said.
Existing buildings should open up access to stairs, Joanna Frank,
executive director of the Center for Active Design, told Reuters
Health. The center is a New York nonprofit that does work on the
association between architecture and public health.
"New buildings can easily integrate a stair for everyday use from
the outset of the design process," she added.
It doesn't cost much extra money to keep these design factors in
mind, and other studies have found an increase in employee
productivity with more physical activity, Frank said.
Medicine, online Dec. 16, 2013.
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.