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Prompts to Encourage Physical Activity: Stairwell Ideas

Key points

  • Taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a good way for people to add physical activity to their day.
  • Modifying stairwells can make them safer and more attractive.
  • Incentives can be a great way to encourage people to use the stairs.
  • Motivational signs can encourage people to use the stairs.
Feet of a person walking up a colorful stairwell.


Taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a good way for people to add physical activity to their day.

For maximum health benefits, adults need at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity. That could be split up into 22 minutes a day, 30 minutes each day for five days a week, or what works in one's schedule. Even a few minutes helps, including the time it takes to climb the stairs.

To encourage people to take the stairs, building managers can:

  • Modify stairwells to be safe and attractive.
  • Provide incentives.
  • Post motivational signs.

If your budget allows, work with a designer to create the right “feel” for your stairwells.


Check with your building manager and safety officer to identify all relevant permits, fire, and building codes before making updates. For example, it would be a shame to purchase framed art only to learn it is against the code in your area to hang them.

Physical appearance

Consider these ideas to make stairwells more inviting.

Carpet your stairwell if it isn't already, or replace carpet that is in bad repair. Add rubber treading for safety.

Paint the walls with bright colors. You can also hang artwork in the stairwell, if permitted. Other ideas for framed art include cartoons and children's art. Change pictures periodically to keep stair users from getting bored.

Create theme stairwells. For example, you can transport stair users to a Hawaiian beach or tropical rainforest. You could also make your own cartoon and have a frame or two per floor.

Create a catchy rhyme with several lines. Put the first line of the rhyme on the first floor, the second line on the second floor, etc. One would have to travel all the way to the top to read the entire rhyme!

Use creative lighting, such as track lighting, incandescent lighting, or halogen lighting. You could also add an electronic message board and upbeat music appropriate for a workplace.

Create a "fitness zone" inside the stairwell. Start with a sign that says, "You are entering the Fitness Zone."

Put numbers on the doors to let users know which floor they're on. This also lets users track their progress.

Allow users to add their signatures to each floor creating a graffiti wall.

Leave room for motivational signs.

Host a kick-off event with a grand re-opening of your improved stairwell.

Commit to maintaining the stairwell so it always looks its best!


Incentives can encourage people to use the stairs. Conduct focus groups to gather information about the signs, colors, and artwork that would motivate your employees to use the stairs. Use this information to find out what incentives employees would appreciate. Keep the incentives within policy and regulations.

Here are some incentive ideas:

Map progress. Make it seem as if users are climbing to a peak such as Mount Everest or a local landmark. On each flight, show them a "map" of where they are.

Hold drawings among stairwell users for prizes, if such incentives are permitted.

Create a challenge. Ask employees to keep track of the number of flights they walk in a week or a month. Award prizes for first, second, and third place. If prizes are not an option, let winners select the music or art in the stairwells for the next week or month.

Have a contest for slogans to increase stair use. These slogans can be incorporated into your artwork and motivational signs. Be sure to note whose slogan is on which sign!

Motivational signs

Make people more aware of the stair options. For example, hang signs by the elevators saying, "Have you thought of taking the stairs today?" Remind people of the health benefits associated with physical activity. Appeal to environmentally conscious employees by pointing out how much energy is used in running an elevator.

You could also add footsteps that lead from the elevators to the stairs and have a message spelled out along the way. Or, post arrows showing the way to the stairs.

More ideas

Enhance skills

Help people who want to take the stairs but who tire easily or have other barriers. Provide motivation and support for taking the stairs once a day for even one flight a day. Help people build up to taking more stairs or taking them more often. Counting the stairs and marking how far people go on the stairs help build stair-climbing skills.

Provide opportunities for trial behavior

Offer opportunities for people to try using the stairs. Perhaps sponsor a "use the stairs for a day" campaign. You could also give people rewards for using the stairs for one flight, one day, or for one week.

Create a supportive social environment

If your stairwells were particularly unpleasant before your renovation, it may take some time to change people's attitudes about the stairwells. Talk about the stairwell positively. Let the stairwell be a happy, fun place by providing employees with encouragement, incentives, and messages that support this perception.

What CDC did

CDC rejuvenated an office building's stairwells with a "StairWELL to Better Health" project. We carpeted concrete stairs and flooring and added rubber treading to each step to maximize safety.

Next, we added brightly colored paint to the bare walls. Each floor was a different color. We added framed artwork featuring people being active, nutritious foods, and picturesque scenery. We used royalty-free art for many of the pictures to reduce costs.

Pictures of four colorful stairwells with framed art on walls.
Four stairwells after changes to make them more inviting.