Take the first step: Little nudges encourage healthy lifestyles like taking the stairs instead
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Stairs
Metro Creative Connection

Wellness begins with a single step. We know the drill: Eat right and exercise. We know we should eat less sugar and more vegetables. We know physical activity is necessary for our overall health, lowers type 2 diabetes, keeps our hearts strong and increases life expectancy. While generations past were more active because they had no choice, technological conveniences provide multiple paths of least resistance. People today need a nudge. In 2013, the United Kingdom’s Department of Health provided that nudge when it backed a new program developed by StepJockey which encourages people to become more active by taking the stairs. The initial focus was to help combat sedentary behaviors detrimental to the health of office workers. Sitting is the new smoking. Instead of counting calories in foods, StepJockey labels the calorie burn found in the physical world with an app and website that calculate how many calories are burned by taking the stairs. Eye-catching stair prompts are posted at key decision points in public spaces: stairway doors, elevators and escalators. Compelling posters provide a call to action to make a healthy choice at the moment of decision. Visible to all, they engage everyone and not just the health-minded exercise obsessed. Does it work? Yes. A six-week trial of the program measured 250,000 stair climbs which resulted in up to 29% increase in stair traffic in buildings with engaging posters. A 2010 updated systematic review of stair prompts by the U.S. Community Preventive Services Task Force found stair prompts increased stair use from 5 to 128%, with a median relative increase of 50%. Importantly, 92% of new stair climbers reported that stair climbing had become habitual. Stair prompts were effective in office buildings, banks, shopping malls, airports, libraries, and train and subway stations. It requires no special athletic ability, engages all ages, is easy to integrate into our lives, costs nothing and — apologies to Lululemon — doesn’t require shape revealing leggings. The most common excuse proffered for not exercising is lack of time. No more. Taking the stairs is almost always quicker than the wait for an elevator for up to seven floors. An IBM Smarter Building survey in 2010 found that over a 12-month analysis, U.S. city office workers wait a combined total of 92 years for elevators. An unlucky few spent a further 33 years trapped in them when they broke down. A Canadian hospital staff discovered that by using the stairways they saved 15 minutes per day, 3% of their working time. In addition, the environmental impact of decreased elevator usage in U.K. hospitals saved $145 million a year in energy costs. If even only 15% of nurses in the U.K. National Health Service opted for the stairs, it would save the equivalent of the annual electrical use of three American homes. This was sufficiently persuasive to administrators of the Huntsville, Alabama, Hospital System looking for a simple, cost effective way to promote a culture of wellness for their health care workers who are regularly engaged in high levels of stress and pressure in their daily work. The irony is that for an industry centered on health, employee wellness is not always a priority and obesity rates are high. In 2015, the hospital was the first in the United States to partner with StepJockey, placing strategically posted stair prompt signs in all their buildings. The Huntsville hospitals motivated their workers with a hospital-wide challenge (with prizes) to climb enough steps to burn the same number of calories as it would take to summit Mount Everest. The beginning nudge turned into an avalanche as the teams hit the goal so fast in three weeks the hospital turned it into a round trip Everest challenge. Since some may find little motivation in climbing a single flight of stairs just to burn off the calorie equivalent of two carrot sticks, the most successful stair prompt signs have expanded to convey the range of benefits derived from regular stair climbing. In addition to physical improvements, employees experience increased psychological well-being, less stress and more social interaction. Stair climbing burns more calories per minute than jogging and while going down the stairs burns fewer calories, it tones different muscles and joints and helps with balance and coordination. (And if you are interested: Stair use in high heels burns more calories.) The StepJockey program started with 200 municipal buildings in the U.K. and currently more than 20,000 buildings worldwide are engaged in promoting the use of stairs. Architects are bringing stairways from behind closed doors inviting use. Some are incorporating lights and sounds in stair treads adding a delightful aspect. The long-term goal of the stairway program is to instill habits of increasing movement in small increments throughout the day, throughout life. A nudge toward stair climbing indoors can have a cumulative impact beyond the stairs. It nudges you to park your car at the end of the lot rather than circling the lanes for that shortest walk to the door. It nudges you to take a walk at lunch. It nudges you to enter the mall at the door farthest from your destination. It nudges you to pay more attention to your role in your own health. Overall wellness does not require the grand gesture, but is an accumulation of small healthful habits repeated routinely. It begins with the first step. Hardy has enjoyed careers as a published microbiologist, an award-winning science teacher and currently is a business owner and formulator for Abbey St. Clare skin, hair and wellness products. She and her husband raised three sons in Danville and her idea of heaven is an unlimited herb garden in the midst of a library of endless books. Visit her website at

We know the drill: Eat right and exercise. We know we should eat less sugar and more vegetables. We know physical activity is necessary for our overall health, lowers type 2 diabetes, keeps our hearts strong and increases life expectancy. While generations past were more active because they had no choice, technological conveniences provide multiple paths of least resistance.

In 2013, the United Kingdom’s Department of Health provided that nudge when it backed a new program developed by StepJockey which encourages people to become more active by taking the stairs. The initial focus was to help combat sedentary behaviors detrimental to the health of office workers. Sitting is the new smoking.

Eye-catching stair prompts are posted at key decision points in public spaces: stairway doors, elevators and escalators. Compelling posters provide a call to action to make a healthy choice at the moment of decision. Visible to all, they engage everyone and not just the health-minded exercise obsessed.

A six-week trial of the program measured 250,000 stair climbs which resulted in up to 29% increase in stair traffic in buildings with engaging posters. A 2010 updated systematic review of stair prompts by the U.S. Community Preventive Services Task Force found stair prompts increased stair use from 5 to 128%, with a median relative increase of 50%.

Importantly, 92% of new stair climbers reported that stair climbing had become habitual. Stair prompts were effective in office buildings, banks, shopping malls, airports, libraries, and train and subway stations. It requires no special athletic ability, engages all ages, is easy to integrate into our lives, costs nothing and — apologies to Lululemon — doesn’t require shape revealing leggings.

An IBM Smarter Building survey in 2010 found that over a 12-month analysis, U.S. city office workers wait a combined total of 92 years for elevators. An unlucky few spent a further 33 years trapped in them when they broke down. A Canadian hospital staff discovered that by using the stairways they saved 15 minutes per day, 3% of their working time. In addition, the environmental impact of decreased elevator usage in U.K. hospitals saved $145 million a year in energy costs.

The Huntsville hospitals motivated their workers with a hospital-wide challenge (with prizes) to climb enough steps to burn the same number of calories as it would take to summit Mount Everest. The beginning nudge turned into an avalanche as the teams hit the goal so fast in three weeks the hospital turned it into a round trip Everest challenge.

In addition to physical improvements, employees experience increased psychological well-being, less stress and more social interaction. Stair climbing burns more calories per minute than jogging and while going down the stairs burns fewer calories, it tones different muscles and joints and helps with balance and coordination. (And if you are interested: Stair use in high heels burns more calories.)

The StepJockey program started with 200 municipal buildings in the U.K. and currently more than 20,000 buildings worldwide are engaged in promoting the use of stairs. Architects are bringing stairways from behind closed doors inviting use. Some are incorporating lights and sounds in stair treads adding a delightful aspect.

Hardy has enjoyed careers as a published microbiologist, an award-winning science teacher and currently is a business owner and formulator for Abbey St. Clare skin, hair and wellness products. She and her husband raised three sons in Danville and her idea of heaven is an unlimited herb garden in the midst of a library of endless books. Visit her website at www.abbeystclare.com.

Hardy has enjoyed careers as a published microbiologist, an award-winning science teacher and currently is a business owner and formulator for Abbey St. Clare skin, hair and wellness products. She and her husband raised three sons in Danville and her idea of heaven is an unlimited herb garden in the midst of a library of endless books. Visit her website at www.abbeystclare.com.

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