Stairway to Health

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has long been known for his often controversial efforts to improve the health of New Yorkers — including his successful campaigns to outlaw smoking in restaurants and parks, ban trans fats in restaurants, and require the posting of calorie counts at chain restaurants, as well as his more recent unsuccessful push to limit the serving size of sugary beverages sold by certain vendors. Perhaps to make up for this last defeat — or maybe just because Bloomberg will be Bloomberg — the mayor seems not to be slowing down in his final months in office, announcing yet another initiative aimed at reducing the rate of obesity in New York City.


At a news conference last Wednesday, according to an article in The New York Times, Bloomberg announced that he had issued an executive order requiring city agencies to promote taking the stairs and to make stairways more inviting in new construction and renovations. This announcement took place at the kickoff of a new nonprofit group, the Center for Active Design, that will promote strategies to encourage physical activity and access to healthy food in daily life. According to the article, Bloomberg has also proposed bills that would require all new buildings to prominently feature stairways in their design and to put up signs encouraging people to take the stairs.

As anyone who has worked or lived in certain office or apartment buildings knows, stairs can indeed be a good source of exercise. But surely one reason for the popularity of elevators — aside from their obvious necessity in high-rise buildings — is that while many people want a workout at some point in the day, they may not want it upon their arrival at work in the morning or at the end of a long day when they arrive home. But as we noted in a Diabetes Flashpoints post last year, physical activity in the workplace has been plummeting for decades, and leisure-time exercise has not made up for the difference. Elevators also tend to save people time, and as the Times article notes, they are often more inviting than stairs because fire regulations usually require keeping stairwell doors shut. Bloomberg has proposed allowing an exception to this rule, permitting the installation of devices that release propped-open doors when a fire alarm goes off.

When given a choice, do you usually take the stairs or the elevator? Is there an upper limit to how many flights of stairs you’ll take on? Is it a good idea to require stairways to be visible and inviting in new buildings, or should cities stay out of such design decisions? How would you feel if your employer started encouraging you to take the stairs, as New York City agencies must now do? Leave a comment below!

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  • John U

    Maintaining YOUR Health is YOUR Concern. Passing feel good laws are Male Bovine Fertilizer, and a waste of taxpayer money. Are the bathroom police going to check and give me a ticket for using the handicap toilet? If they do I guess I’ll have to use it in place of TP and flush it. Are the hallway monitors going to check if you are using the stairs. Is the only thing in this country not overtaxed the brains of politicians ? As Ron White says “You Can’t Fix Stupid”. Let me hear an Amen ! (providing this is not deemed politicly incorrect)

  • joan

    I always take the stairs!

    What do we have legs for if not to use them?
    Of course, there are physical disabilities amongst us and this calls for a different type of exercise.

  • BK CDE

    I would like this idea. No one is going to force anyone to take the stairs, but I look for stairs for the exercise and sometimes they are far off the beaten path and dark and scary. If they were located where they could be easily accessed in the general traffic of a building and were open with fire doors, kept clean and safe, it would be great. I don’t understand why some find this so offensive.

    Incidentally, I like Ann Landers take on handicap bathroom stalls. She said use another one if there is another one open and you are able to, but of course, by all means use the handicap stall if it is the only one open and there is not a handicap person waiting. It is not like you are going to park in there. You will only be in there a few moments. That is quite different than parking in the handicap stall where you might be there for an hour or hours.

  • Carol A. Preece

    Yes, I like the idea of takings the stairs and do so unless I have a load to carry which is the usual case when I return to my apartment. I do go empty-handed and do several flights. My experience with handicapped toilets is that they are always in use by young mothers, sometimes restaurant employees changing into uniforms. I don’t think there is any appreciation of the effort to rise from a low toilet when a person has arthritis. Public education.