Climbing just 5 flights a day could reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 20%, a new study suggests. Getty Images
Choosing the stairs over the elevator has been considered sound fitness advice for years, but a new published study proves that health advice is backed up in the journal. Atherosclerosis looked at exactly how many stairs you should climb daily to improve your heart health. The short answer? Climbing just five flights a day could reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 20%.
“Researchers found a 19% reduction in the relative risk of heart disease among participants who regularly climbed five flights of stairs per day,” says internal medicine physician Dr. Yvonne Covin. “Unfortunately, those who first took the stairs but then stopped had a 32% higher risk of heart disease than those who did not exercise at all.”
Like all research, this study has its limitations, according to Dr. Robert Harrington, cardiologist and dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. “The study was carried out using data from the UK Biobank, a large observational/epidemiological study which has been used extensively for research purposes,” he says. Because the study was observational, it could not establish causality (as in “Climb more stairs). equals fewer cardiac events. »); instead, the study simply highlights the associations between this activity and heart health.
Why walking stairs is so good for you
Heart disease accounts for one in five deaths in the United States each year, killing approximately 695,000 people annually. Stair climbing falls into the category of aerobic exercise, or movements that increase your heart rate and oxygen levels through repetitive activity. Generally speaking, aerobic exercise reduces the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and, of course, heart disease.
“Climbing stairs is similar to many activities such as walking, running and cycling that are associated with improved cardiovascular risk, such as a reduction in heart attacks,” says Harrington. “Walking stairs can take a little more effort than just walking, and it also requires some balance and core strength that can combat issues like frailty and muscle weakness.”
Climbing a few dozen feet before sitting at your desk all day can also improve longevity. “As you age, climbing stairs can improve leg power and back strength, which can help prevent falls,” says Covin. Specifically, postmenopausal people who climb stairs have higher bone density.
Climbing the stairs for better heart health
To start improving your heart health today, Harrington recommends incorporating some variety of aerobic activities, which may include stair climbing, into your exercise routine. “As recommended by the American Heart Association, I ask patients to aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise (30 minutes 5 days per week). This primarily means walking at a moderate pace and lifting light weights to maintain strength three times a week,” he says. Climbing stairs is considered “moderate exercise” because it burns about eight to 11 calories per minute.
That said, exercise isn’t the only solution to improving your health. Covin recommends keeping the six pillars of lifestyle medicine in mind when choosing how to support your mind and body. “Lifestyle medicine is a medical subspecialty focused on evidence-based methods to support heart health,” she explains.
These six pillars include a lot of classic advice you’ve probably heard before: eat whole, plant-based foods when possible, prioritize restful sleep, devote 150 minutes of movement per week, avoid risky substances like than tobacco and alcohol, and making time for social connections. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 80% of cases of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes could be prevented by prioritizing these six behaviors.
3 stair exercises to try
While a simple climb of the stairs offers many benefits, you can also try upping the ante with workouts in a stairwell near you or on the stair lift at your local gym.
1. Stair Interval Training
Alternate climbing one staircase at a controlled pace and another at a slightly faster pace (but still safe and controlled). Repeat three to five times, depending on your comfort with climbing stairs. Take a break and repeat the workout one or two more times.
2. Stair climbing and gymnastics
Design yourself a circuit workout that involves climbing a few flights of stairs at a moderate pace, then dropping to the floor for a strength workout, like push-ups or sit-ups. For example, you might climb three sets of stairs, do 10 squats, and rest for a minute before repeating the entire circuit.
3. Climb the stairs depending on the weather
For a simple workout, simply set the timer on your watch or phone for 10 minutes and climb the stairs or stair lift with a slow, steady effort. Take a five-minute break after 10 minutes before returning for another 10-minute effort.