There’s a powerful new weapon in the war on obesity. It’s a technological breakthrough that may help millions of Americans incorporate exercise into their daily lives. It’s … a sign.
In a new study, researchers from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene placed simple green signs that read "Burn Calories, Not Electricity" next to elevators in three buildings: a three-story health clinic, a 10-story affordable housing building, and an eight-story academic building. Then they watched to see if more people chose to take the stairs.
The results of the study, which will appear in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, were pretty astounding. Stair use increased immediately at all locations by amounts ranging from 9.2% to 34.7%. And it doesn’t seem that tenants and employees got tired of taking the stairs, either. As Karen K. Lee, the author of the study, said, "The gains in physical activity continued to be observed nine months after the signs were first placed."
What difference can taking the stairs make? A pretty big one, as it turns out. Dr. Harvey Simon of Harvard Medical School calls stairs "one of the best-kept secrets in preventive medicine." According to the New York City Health Department, two minutes of stair climbing each day can offset the extra pound of weight the average American adult gains each year. Stair climbing also reduces the risk of stroke, raises your "good" cholesterol levels, and improves cardiovascular health. Oh, and if you’re not in good enough shape to take the stairs, you probably shouldn’t be having sex.
Given the success of the study, the NYC health department is distributing these signs throughout the city. Dr. Lee says they’ve given out 26,000 signs to owners and managers of about 1,000 buildings.
There’s been a lot of debate about how to get health-care costs down in America, but simple preventative measures like this should be a no-brainer. Signs, after all, are a lot cheaper than surgery.