by Prof Nanette Mutrie, Director of Physical Activity for Health Research Centre, University of Edinburgh
Stair walking is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to put more activity into our everyday lives.
Encouraging people to choose the stairs involves making the stairs interesting [perhaps with art work or even piano keys]; ensuring that architects make stairs attractive and easy to find; and offering prompts to those who can make the choice between an active journey up the stairs or a passive journey on lift or elevator (1)
One of the earliest studies about the effectiveness of prompting stair walking was done in an underground station in Glasgow (2). A poster prompting people to ‘stay healthy, save time, use the stairs’ doubled the number of people choosing the stairs. More people were still using the stairs 10 weeks after the poster was taken down.
Stair walking, like hill climbing, has high energy outputs. It expends twice the amount of energy as walking, is good for strengthening the leg muscles and appeals to men and women of all sizes (3). Research has shown that you can improve fitness from regular stair walking (4).
January is always a good time to consider changes and maybe you work or pass through a shopping centre or train station where you could choose the stairs. Try starting by going down the stairs when you get the chance and then add in going up a few flights as well. Encourage others to join you. Suggest, where you can, that reception staff show people how to find the stairs first and the elevator second. Make stair walking social and fun. Put posters in the stairs such as the idea that if you walk up one flight of stairs every day for a year you will have climbed a Munro!