Blue Zones

Live Longer, Better

The Painless Trick to Burning Calories

Posted on October, 13 by Blue Zones

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Did you know that simply placing a sign at the bottom of the stairs at your workplace can help you burn more calories?

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine reviewed eight studies evaluating the effectiveness of signs reminding people to “Take the Stairs!” When researchers placed these signs at the bottom of the staircase, five percent more women and 2.5 percent more men chose the stairs![i]

It’s a small step, but over the course of a year, choosing the stairs over the escalator helps people lose nearly a pound—mindlessly! And that’s just in public spaces, like malls. Imagine if you did it everywhere!

Here are a few tips for mindlessly moving more and eating less:

Green means go. “We’ve given red and green stickers to families,” says the University of Pennsylvania medical school’s Meredith Dolan, who worked on the “Take the Stairs!” study. “We have them label foods in their homes: green is “Go,” and red is ‘Stop and think about it before you eat too many of these.’ Potato chips, ice cream could be labeled red. Whole grains could be labeled green.”

Turn me off. “We had families hang signs on their television: ‘Don’t turn me on for a certain amount of time,’” Dolan explains. Celebrate national Screen-Free week–or hold one of your own–by turning off all the monitors in your house and placing signs on them reminding you to keep shut off.

Park far away. It would be great if parking lots posted signs far from the store entrance reading “For more physical activity in you day, park here,” Dolan says. But, since they typically don’t, why not make your own? Place on your dashboard as a reminder to get more walking in your day.

Get up and stretch. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends stretching before bed in order to wake up with more energy (www.smallstep.gov). So how about changing your work computer password to a reminder to stretch? Or hanging a sign above your bed that says “Stretch?”

Change the signs. “You have to rotate the signs– I’m sure they would get old,” Dolan says. While she didn’t have a specific suggestion for exactly when you should change the signs, the right timeframe is probably when you stop noticing them–that’s when they become ineffective.

Simply by taking one of these steps–a two-minute walk up the stairs each day at work, then back again at the end day’s end–a 150-pound person would mindlessly burn 7,500 calories per year—enough to effortlessly lose two pounds! Add them all up, and you’ll lose even more!

To calculate how much a stair climb burns for your body weight, check out the Stairway to Health calculator from the Canadian government.


[i] Dolan, M. S., Weiss, L. A., Lewis, R. A., Pietrobelli, A., Heo, M. and Faith, M. S. (2006), ‘Take the stairs instead of the escalator’: effect of environmental prompts on community stair use and implications for a national ‘Small Steps’ campaign. Obesity Reviews, 7: 25–32. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2006.00219.x