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Taking the Stairs


Updated June 06, 2014

Walking up stairs
© duskbabe / Depositphotos.com

How much does it help to take the stairs rather than ride the escalator or elevator?

- A 140-pound person will burn about 4 more calories per minute compared to standing and riding on an escalator or elevator.

- Over the course of a year, you might lose over half a pound if your only lifestyle change was taking the stairs for a minute a day.

But there are other benefits -- stair climbing challenges more muscles than standing and level walking. It is a good activity to build into your day. One of the "small steps" recommended at HealthierUS.gov is to take the stairs.

Eliminating Stairs from Homes

With an aging population, single-story homes and homes with the master bedroom on the main level are becoming more desirable. People want to eliminate stairs from their lives. Yet a task such as carrying groceries up a flight of stairs burns more than twice the calories as carrying them on level ground. Unless you have existing joint problems, it is good to challenge your muscles and joints each day. I see living in a two-story house as a built-in fitness program. However, I prefer having the laundry on the same level as the closets and bedrooms, to eliminate carrying loads up and down stairs.

What Will Make You Take the Stairs?

Several studies have looked at the best way to encourage people to take the stairs instead of the escalator at shopping malls. They found the best way to motivate people was to have messages on the stair risers. Interestingly, people who saw the stair riser signs were more likely to take the stairs down, or to take other stairs that didn't have signs.

Stairs need to be conveniently located, not hidden away and poorly marked. Do they feel like a lonely, scary place, or a safe, well-lit, frequently-used environment? Architects, designers and building management all have a role in making stairwells more walker-friendly in office buildings, schools, hospitals and government buildings. Once in the stairwell, it may be poorly cleaned, with little climate control, and undecorated. No wonder people just wait for the elevator.

Small Steps Add Up

Taking the stairs is just one small step. You need to add other small changes to be more active and eat a better diet in order to stay fit and healthy. The biggest step can be achieving the recommended exercise levels for healthy persons -- 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, 5 days a week, plus strength exercise two days a week

AINSWORTH BE, Haskell WL, Whitt MC, Irwin ML, Swartz AM, Strath SJ, O'Brien WL, Bassett DR Jr, Schmitz KH, Emplaincourt PO, Jacobs DR Jr, Leon AS. "Compendium of Physical Activities: An update of activity codes and MET intensities." Med Sci Sports Exerc 2000;32 (Suppl):S498-S516.

Webb OJ, Eves FF. "Effects of environmental changes in a stair climbing intervention: generalization to stair descent." Am J Health Promot. 2007 Sep-Oct;22(1):38-44.

Kerr J, Eves F, Carroll D. "Six-month observational study of prompted stair climbing." Prev Med. 2001 Nov;33(5):422-7.

Mansi, Ishak A. MD, FACP; Mansi, Nardine AIA; Shaker, Hayam MD; Banks, Daniel MD, MS, FACP. "Stair Design in the United States and Obesity: The Need for a Change." Southern Medical Journal, June 2009, 102:6.


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