Burn Calories Not Electricity

NEW YORK CITY – May 20, 2008 – Like cars and trucks, elevators and escalators burn energy and harm the environment; they also promote obesity by keeping us physically inactive. Today, a coalition of city officials and private partners urged fellow New Yorkers to embrace a simple alternative: Take the Stairs!

Take the Stairs!Speaking at the annual Fit City conference hosted by the Health Department and the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Commissioner Frieden unveiled a sign (PDF) that the City will provide, free-of-charge, to any building that will mount it. The campaign’s tagline – Burn Calories, Not Electricity (PDF) – addresses our obesity epidemic and our environmental crisis with a single call to action.

Commissioner Frieden was joined for the event by Fredric Bell, Executive Director of the AIA’s New York Chapter, and Commissioner David Burney of the Department of Design and Construction, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden also took part in the conference.

The new signs use a bold, simple icon to prompt a change in behavior. Studies suggest that visual prompts can boost stair use by more than 50%. The Health Department is reaching out to building owners to encourage them to post the signs very visibly in entryways and at elevator banks, where they are most effective. The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) has already endorsed the sign and will distribute them to its members. Any New Yorker can order the signs by calling 311.

Leaner and Greener: Benefits of Taking the Stairs
  • Stair climbing burns almost 700% the number of calories you burn standing on an elevator.
  • Just two minutes of stair-climbing each day burns enough calories to eliminate the one pound an average adult gains each year.
  • Men who climbed at least 20 floors a week (about 3 floors a day) had a 20% lower risk of stroke or death from all causes, in one study.
  • Stair-climbing has been shown to raise good cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health
  • Stair use also advances the city’s GreeNYC effort to reduce energy consumption. An escalator that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, can use 28,000 kilowatt hours of energy over the course of a year. That’s enough to create 43,000 pounds of carbon dioxide – more than three times the amount a car produces.

“New York City is in the midst of an obesity epidemic,” said Dr. Frieden. “We need to re-engineer our built environment to support healthier living. Some of these changes can be simple and powerful. Encouraging people to take the stairs by posting these signs can dramatically change behavior for the better of our health and our city.”

New York City’s Department of Design and Construction is now developing guidelines for “active design” – building and land-use practices that promote physical activity instead of discouraging it. These design principles include:

  • Making stairs visible, available and pleasant: People choose stairs more often if they’re easy to see and readily accessible. Making stairways aesthetically pleasing by adding art or music helps too.
  • Making physical activity more accessible. If a workplace or residential building offers exercise facilities onsite or nearby, the proportion of occupants who exercise at least three times a week increases significantly.
  • Beautifying streets and improving their safety and aesthetics. Good lighting, sidewalks, bike paths, and greenery can increase walking and biking by 30% or more.
  • Bringing housing, commerce, schools and recreation together. People are more likely to walk from one location to another if zoning plans integrate different uses instead of segregating them.

New York’s newly-approved NYC Construction Codes will also allow for buildings to use certain tested fire-rated glass doors and smoke-activated automatic-closing devices, so many stairwells can stay visible, open, and more inviting.

“Architects, interior designers and landscape architects have helped make it easy and fun to burn calories while moving through wonderful spaces” said Rick Bell, Executive Director of the AIA New York Chapter.  “New York is a vertical city, and using stairs makes us appreciate it even more.”

“REBNY applauds the City for encouraging New Yorkers to exercise more, and will urge our members to promote greater use of the stairs by their tenants,” said Steve Spinola, President of REBNY.

“Taking the stairs is great example of how staying fit can be a simple part of your everyday life,” said Dr. Karen Lee, the Health Department’s Deputy Director for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control. “A glass of water instead of a soda, playing basketball instead of watching TV, and getting off the subway a stop or two early to walk are other easy changes that are good for your health.”

For more information on promoting health through design, see the report from last year’s Fit City conference. It was presented at today’s event and can be viewed online at http://www.aiany.org.

Download the sign. (PDF)


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