Three Strategies to Increase Movement by Design

How to increase movement by design and make your workplace part of your workout plan.

increase movement by design
Image via

Can design make you healthier? Can you leave work in the evening feeling better than you did when you clocked in that morning? Leigh Stringer thinks so. In this piece, enjoy an excerpt from Stringer’s new book, The Healthy Workplace. The tips below appear in chapter four, “Maximize Energy, Avoid Crashes”.

  1. Make stairs more attractive to use

Taking the stairs is good for cholesterol levels, for burning calories, and for encouraging employees to bump into each other and collaborate[1], [2] However, getting people to take the stairs can sometimes require more than signs. In modern building design, the elevator is front and center and stairways are often hidden, dark, locked (for fire code purposes), and generally scary places to hang out. Not exactly ideal for encouraging health. So if it’s possible to choose a building or design your space with an open, airy stair, one with daylight, views, artwork, or nice finishes, it will increase the chances of it being used. If your local building code will allow, use a magnetic “hold open” on the stair door (which will release in the case of a fire). You can also change your building elevator settings to “skip stops,” so that the elevators only stop every other floor or every three floors, which encourages people to take at least one flight of stairs. At Arbor House, a low-income rental apartment in the South Bronx, the stairs play nice music, and the elevators are silent. Also elevators in the building are programmed to intentionally be very slow, which naturally more encourages stair use.[3]

increase movement by design
The College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Mass. designed by EYP. Image courtesy of EYP, ©Robert Benson Photography
  1. Locate your office space by public transportation or amenities

Building location and good urban planning can impact people movement. For example, research shows that proximity to parks and other recreational facilities is consistently associated with higher levels of physical activity and healthier weight status among youth and adults.[4] The same goes for proximity to public transit — there is a link between access to public transportation and physical activity, since transit use typically involves walking to a bus or subway stop. In one study, train commuters walked an average of 30 percent more steps per day and were four times more likely to walk 10,000 steps per day than were car commuters.[5] Many organizations encourage employees to use public transportation for environmental reasons, but it turns out there are excellent health benefits as well.

  1. Provide a place for employees to work out

    Increase movement by design
    Workout facility with view to nature at Connecticut College in New London, Conn. Image courtesy of EYP, ©Jim Fiora Studio

If you have the space and budget for it, nothing beats having a gym either in the building, on campus, or just a few blocks from the office. The closer to where employees work the better. If your company does have the budget or space for a gym, consider providing gym memberships for free or at a greatly reduced price. Especially if the workplace is in a colder climate, there are significant portions of the year that it is practically impossible to exercise outside and an indoor work out environment is essential. Ideally, exercise rooms should have nice windows as research indicates that exercise is more appealing when it occurs in spaces with views to nature and human activities.[6] Warm colors, especially when accompanied by high illumination levels, have also been found to encourage activity or movement, whereas cool colors promote more passive behavior.[7]


[1] Zimring C, et al. Influences of building design and site design on physical activity: research and intervention opportunities. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2005;28(2S2): p. 186-193.

[2] Boreham CA G, Wallace WFM, Nevill A. Training effects of accumulated daily stair-climbing exercise in previously sedentary young women. Preventive Medicine. 2000;30: p. 277-281.

[3] Alvarez, Maria, “’Active design’ for affordable housing,” Newsday, July 31, 2013.

[4] Gordon-Larsen P, et al. Inequality in the built environment underlies key health disparities in physical activity and obesity. Pediatrics. 2006;117(2): p. 417–424.

[5] Wener, RE and Evans GW. A morning stroll: levels of physical activity in car and mass transit commuting. Environment and Behavior. 2007;39: p. 1–13.

[6] Pikora T, Giles-Corti B, Bull F, Jamrozik K, Donavan R. Developing a framework for assessment of the environmental determinants of walking and cycling. Social Science and Medicine. 2003;56(8): p. 1693–1704.

[7] Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) The effect of health care working conditions on patient safety. [Accessed January 17, 2010];Evidence Based Report/Technology Assessment. 2003 (74) AHRQ Publication 03-E024. Available at



Tags from the story
More from Leigh Stringer

Why Mindfulness Matters in the Workplace

A guide to creating more time and space for mindfulness meditation in...
Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *