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Fitness at Your Feet

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Nov. 12, 2001 -- Do it. Just do it. Forget the elevator. Take the stairs. You'll lose a few pounds, ward off a heart attack, and feel better for the effort. The problem is, most office stairways are less than inviting. They're cold, gray, bleak at best.


This is a Cinderella story, a story of an ugly little stairway that's now getting more action than ever before -- a makeover for the stairs, you might say. Quite possibly, it's also a new trend in employee fitness programs.


What could be more practical?


"Every office building has them, they're free, you don't have to change your clothes to use them," says Nicole Kerr, MPH, with the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.


And there's no question that stairway exercise is good for you.


"Stair climbing has all sorts of benefits," she says. "The body responds to moderate physical activity in ways that have important positive effects -- it reduces heart disease, [high blood pressure], cancer, diabetes, depression, and anxiety."

Piloting the Concept

At the CDC, Kerr is conducting a research project of "stairway makeovers" and their effects on exercise behavior. She's transformed a six-flight stairway in her own office building. It's nearly a page in House Beautiful, with pretty paint on the walls, carpeting, and inexpensive but colorful artwork. Soon, there will also be a music sound system, she says.


Infrared "counters" at every flight are keeping track of traffic. "We saw a 14% increase in traffic that first year," she says. "That's fantastic."


"Even walking down the stairs helps," Kerr points out. "You get some cardiovascular benefits; it's not great, but it's something. And it's weight-bearing exercise, good for osteoporosis prevention."


Employees at her company regularly took the elevator "just to go one flight up, two flights down -- that kind of thing," says Betty Woods, RN, an occupational health nurse at North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company in Durham.


But no more, says Woods. On floors one through six, paint went onto the accent walls -- fuschia, "Duke blue," canary yellow, "in-between green" -- plus nice carpet and bright lighting. Artwork is by noted artist Ernie Banks, a Durham native.

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