On Health: Take the Stairs!


The low-cost version of New York Citys effort to get its citizens and buildings in shape -- a sign encouraging people to skip the elevator.

The low-cost version of New York City's effort to get its citizens and buildings in shape -- a sign encouraging people to skip the elevator.

Imagine if Americans, as a group, spent just two minutes per day taking the stairs (the equivalent of climbing about six flights).  Studies have shown that this activity alone would overcome the weight-gain trend that adults are currently going undergoing in the United States.  Moreover, stair-climbing is an inexpensive workout.  

Jennifer 8. Lee (cool name, huh?) of the New York TimesCity Room Blog posted a fascinating article today exploring efforts – both architectural and behavioral – to get New Yorkers off the elevators and into stairways.  While we don’t have quite as many high-rise buildings here in Southeast Michigan, there are often opportunities to “hoof it” instead of jumping into an elevator.  (By the way — it’s much easier on the knees to take the stairs up, apparently.  Feel free to take the elevator down . . .)

More on this fascinating attempt to change human behavior positively through a combination of smart urban planning and public health messages, after the jump . . .

CR:  hdc. via Flickr

CR: hdc. via Flickr

So, what needs to be done to implement a stair-climbing strategy?  In the long-term, new buildings should include stairways that are “user-friendly.”  They should be well-lit, wide, inviting, near the entrance (indeed, more obvious than elevators), and clearly marked – in sum, they should be “primary, prominent, pleasant, and preferred.”  In the short-term, building owners and residents can post signs encouraging residents and tenants to consider their health and the environment when deciding whether or not to call for the elevator or to take the stairs.  

The goal is to build physical activity into people’s daily routines by “engineering” it into their lives.  One of the side effects to this exercise routine – it can save building owners a lot on their electricity bill.

Key Points from the NYC Health Department:

Increase Stair Use


  • just 2 minutes of stair climbing a day burns enough calories to prevent average U.S. adult annual weight gain
  • men climbing 20-34 floors of stairs per week (~3-5 floors per day) had a >20% lower risk of stroke
  • elevators also routinely account for 3-10% of a building’s energy use

Create or improve access to places for physical activity


  • increases energy expenditure and leisure-time physical activity
  • weight loss and decreases in body fat are also reported in most of these studies

Improve walkability through street-scale and community-scale design


  • e.g. improving street lighting, increasing safety of street crossing, enhancing street landscaping can result in 35-161% increase in physical activity (e.g. walking) 

This article brought to you by the good folks at Urbane Apartments Royal Oak Michigan, Urbane Apartments Ferndale Michigan,Urbane Apartments Birmingham Michigan, and Urbane Apartments Dearborn Michigan

  • Megan

    I’m kind of surprised that there hasn’t been more of a effort in the current debate over healthcare about the need for common-sense solutions like this to get people to exercise and lose a little weight (making them healthier). The problem is that many buildings don’t make the stairways accessible or welcoming. In my building, you have to take the elevator to the 2nd floor as the stairs are behind the security booth. Makes no sense!

  • John S

    It’s all about building little habits. Taking the stairs everyday, walking 10 minutes to the post office or the store instead of driving, etc. In a busy world this little exercise bites make all of the difference.

  • Anonymous

    You make a very good point about the user-friendly character (or lack thereof) when it comes to stairs.
    Cleanliness of some stairwells is a big issue here (especially in some parking structures). I’ve been in some stairways that are so filthy and smell like….um, never mind…that it’s a really unpleasant trip.
    Still, I’m no fan of elevators and take the stairs whenever I can. As long as I’m not loaded down with luggage or have to go to something like the tenth floor, I’m good to go.

  • http://www.midwestguest.com DominiqueKing

    Hmmmm…this site doesn’t seem to like it when I make a comment on one post and then go on to read another and make a comment on that, too. Second time I’ve been logged off as I’m reading along and end up being Anon without realizing it!

  • Mildred

    Hmm. Maybe that is why my knees are always hurting – I’m always taking the stairs down from my 16th floor apartment! Now, if only I knew of a place in Royal Oak where I could go for a walk in a nature area…

  • http://www.midwestguest.com DominiqueKing

    Mildred-My favorite nearby nature area for walking is the Madison Heights Nature Center and Friendship Woods…next city over from Royal Oak, close enough? :)
    I wrote an article about the MH center here at Urbane earlier this year…check it out here http://www.urbaneapts.com/blog/?p=1683

  • http://www.midwestguest.com DominiqueKing

    Mildred-there are some nature trails in the big park just east of the high school in Royal Oak. I’ve been back there, but it can be quite swampy and very buggy at certain times of the year.
    Madison Heights is asphalt, so it’s more accessible year round…and it’s available for cross country skiing in winter if we’ve got snow!

  • Brandon

    Thanks, all for the comments! Been trying to take the stairs more often in my building downtown.

    Megan/ John: you guys are reading my mind! This should be a great non-partisan issue. I was always surprised that Bush didn’t do more with it — he was a good role model as far as health was concerned (as is the Obama family).

    Thanks Dominique for your thoughts and for responding to Mildred. (I think Mildred might have an inside line on a post I’m about to do regarding some local trails! Is she trying to push me a bit to get that done? Message received!)