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Power of suggestion moves shoppers to take stairs

LONDON – Attention all shoppers: taking the stairs protects your heart.

That’s the message researchers tried at a suburban shopping mall by putting up colorful signs along the steps of a staircase, and it worked. Over six weeks, use of the stairway next to an escalator more than doubled.

Normally, about 4 percent of people at the mall take the stairs but after adding the signs, that went up to nearly 10 percent. The findings were recently published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

With fewer daily opportunities for physical activity in modern society, public health officials are increasingly focusing on stairs at schools, workplaces, and even the mall. Past studies have also shown that the decision to take stairs can be manipulated relatively easily with a few signs.

Experts emphasize that just climbing one flight of stairs at a shopping mall is not going to improve your health. But they hope the signs may inspire some people to regularly forgo escalators in the future.

“Unless you’re climbing six or seven flights of stairs a day, it’s probably not a substitute for daily exercise, but every little bit helps,” said Tim Armstrong, a physical activity expert at the World Health Organization.