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January 05, 2011
Improve Worker Fitness with a 'StairWELL'

Is the obesity epidemic hurting your workplace? Are your workers less productive than they could be because they suffer from poorly controlled Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or obstructive sleep apnea? Are your healthcare costs soaring out of control?

One way to fight these trends is to give workers opportunities to improve their health in the workplace—for example, by encouraging them to take the stairs instead of the elevator. But who wants to trudge up a dreary stairway every morning?

If you want your workers to take the stairs, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that you'll get a lot farther if you make the stairs a more pleasant place to be. The following tips are adapted from the CDC's Healthier Worksite Initiative Toolkit on turning stairwells into "stairWELLs":

Paint and carpet. Make your stairwells more inviting with cheerful paint on the walls and railings. If allowed by your local fire and building codes, carpet can increase comfort and decrease noise. Rubber stair treads. If you carpet your stairs, rubber stair treads will help ensure safety.

Framed artwork. For its own stairWELL project, the CDC selected royalty-free images of people being physically active, making healthy food choices, and participating in other healthy behaviors (such as health screenings). This may not be allowed by fire and building codes in all areas, though, so check with local authorities.

Motivational signs. Signs near elevators (at the CDC, the signs say "No waiting one door over") and in other points-of-decision of the worksite can remind workers to use their stairWELL. The CDC also used internal focus groups to determine which types of messages would be well received by their workers. You can download the signs the CDC designed at

Music. The CDC paid $500 to install a satellite radio system in its stairWELL and now pays a monthly subscription fee to maintain the system. The music played changes periodically and reflects employee requests.

Stairwell use tracking system. The CDC's stairWELL is equipped with an infrared tracking system that allows it to monitor use. This can be one way to determine the return you get on your stairwell investment.

Budgets. The CDC kept its own stairWELL costs low by incorporating its project into a stairwell that was already slated for renovation. The money for paint and some of the labor was allocated as part of the capital improvement project; other costs were incremental. Find out more about the Healthier Worksite Initiative at

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