What does it take to get people to move more? It turns out that the answer might be a sign. Literally. Dr. Karen Lee of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene wanted to find out if a stair sign might prompt more people to choose the stairs over an elevator. In a paper published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Lee and colleagues report that a stair prompt led to immediate increases in stair use, which were sustained 9 months later.
With signs saying, “Burn Calories, Not Electricity” posted at a health clinic (3 stories), an academic building (8 stories), and an affordable housing site (10 stories), the researchers set out to see if signs would have an effect on stair use in diverse settings. Indeed they did!
The increase ranged from 9% at the health clinic to almost 35% at the academic building, with the affordable housing site close behind at approx. 34%. They kept the signs up at the health clinic and housing site for follow-up, and at 9 months the increase was sustained at respectively 20% and 43% compared to baseline. That’s pretty impressive for something as simple as posting a sign!
Many researchers recognize that the incidence of physical activity is dependent on the human-made environment and context of everyday life. At the 2011 Seminar on Exercise in Medicine in Trondheim, Dr. Steven Blair showed a picture from a diabetes conference – surely a collection of people that should recognize the importance of regular physical activity – where the relatively short escalators were packed next to practically empty stairs.
He also emphasized the cost effectiveness of behavioral interventions in increasing compliance to physical activity. Structural interventions where you monitor patients rigorously to ensure compliance can cost 3-5 times more than a behavioral approach, without the guarantee of a corresponding increase in effect.
We at CERG laud the integration of physical activity with your everyday life, and practice this by exercising together at work. Nevertheless, if you think that exercising with coworkers at lunch is too ambitious, consider making some subtler changes to your routine. Simply taking the stairs instead of the elevator can make a real difference over time. The take-away message when it comes to physical activity and health is that all exercise matters, and any is better than none.
Written by Hanna Sofie Ellingsen at CERG.