University stairs research reveals climb in pandemic activity

Date 11.11.2021

One of the University’s pandemic precautions was so successful in encouraging greater stair usage, the institution is looking into a permanent strategy to support this.

This is according to research from a UON team tasked with understanding and promoting a healthier and more ‘active campus’ for students, staff, and visitors.

In May 2020 the Government announced recommendations to support increased stair usage to avoid people using and sharing lifts and potentially spreading the virus. This included installing one-way routes to help people walk around safely.

The University swiftly established measures for its community to feel as ‘Covid-safe’ as possible across the University estate. These included clearly signposted and communicated one-way walking systems for those who were physically able to use the stairs, and extra signs at lifts limiting passenger numbers to one at a time.

The University’s Sport and Physical Activity Group* researchers – who were already looking at encouraging greater stair use – measured this during the pandemic to see if such Covid measures helped and by how much.

Automated counts were set at ground floor staircases and lift entrances to judge how many people used stairs compared to lifts, before the University introduced its stair usage measures, and then shortly after they were introduced.

Before the stair usage measures were introduced, the stair to elevator use ratio going up to the first floor and down to the ground floor was 1.36 (0.02) and 1.88 (0.02) people respectively.

During the first period when face-to-face activities resumed across the University (with the stair usage measures in place), the ratios increased to 2.64 (0.09) and 3.96 (0.22) people. Although there was a slight decrease between this time and a second intervention period a few weeks later, the results showed these measures helped increased stair usage in a university setting.

There are added benefits of using stairs to move between building floors, with around five calories being burnt on average from climbing just one stair.

Dr Declan Ryan, Lecturer in Exercise Physiology, led the research. He said: “Never more so than during a global pandemic, physical activity is an incredibly important way for all of us to stay healthy. Now we have in black and white how, with extra organisation and effort, these government measures help encourage those who are more physically able, to comfortably and confidently walk a few flights of stairs to get to their lectures or workstations.

“The Sport and Physical Activity Group has been working on several projects to ensure physical activity in its many forms is developed and promoted across the University estate. This started with added stair-use messages promoting walking challenges across campus to see if people can climb the equivalent of famous buildings, such as the Shanghai Tower and promoting scenic routes around campus for those who cannot use the stairs.

“As a follow-up, the Group is looking at how to further develop this into an overarching strategy to encourage greater stair usage in the long term, for instance looking into peoples’ experiences and motivations to use stairs more than lifts.”

*The Group is part of the Waterside Wellbeing Community brings together teams from across the University to support, improve and promote the wellbeing and physical and mental health of those living, studying and working here.

It has three interlocking strands – mental health, sport and physical activity and the work environment – to ensure this outlook remains front and centre of everything the University does for its students and staff.

This approach incorporates the Keys to Happier Living, recommendations by Action for Happiness to help build a happier and more caring society for all.