Heart Health: How Taking the Stairs Can Help You Live Longer

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Researchers say that taking the stairs instead of taking the elevator is good for your heart. Igor Alexander/Getty Images
  • Researchers report that stair climbers reduce their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 39% compared to non-stair climbers.
  • They say that stair climbing probably benefits the heart because it combines cardiovascular and resistance exercise.
  • Experts say more studies are needed to determine whether health benefits increase with stair-climbing frequency.

Take the stairs that could extend your life.

That’s the conclusion of UK researchers who report that climbing stairs dramatically reduces the risk of dying from any cause and, in particular, reduces the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Their findings, which have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, were presented at ESC Preventive Cardiology 2024, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

If you have the option of taking the stairs or the lift, take the stairs as they will help your heart, said study author Dr Sophie Paddock, a faculty member at the University of East Anglia and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital Foundation. Trust the UK, in a press release. Even short bursts of physical activity have a beneficial impact on health and short bursts should be an achievable goal to integrate into daily routines.

Paddock and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of nine studies on the health benefits of stair climbing.

The studies included a total of 480,479 participants, with a fairly even distribution between men and women. The ages ranged from 35 to 84 years.

The study population included healthy participants as well as those with a history of heart attack or peripheral arterial disease.

The researchers reported that participants who climbed stairs had a 24% reduced risk of dying during the study period compared to those who did not climb stairs.

The climbers also had a 39% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and a lower overall risk of developing cardiovascular disease or having a heart attack, heart failure, or stroke.

The substantial reductions in cardiovascular and all-cause mortality associated with regular stair climbing underscore the profound impact that even brief bouts of physical activity can have on our health, according to Dr. Adedapo Iluyomade, preventive cardiologist at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute of Florida, he said Today’s Medical News.

These findings reinforce the idea that every move counts when it comes to optimizing cardiovascular wellness and longevity, and often the biggest impact comes when you move the needle from nothing to something, added Iluyomade, who did not participate in research.

James Cunningham, senior trainer at online health and fitness company Total Shape, said Today’s Medical News that climbing stairs is a fantastic form of exercise that can easily be incorporated into daily life. It is a form of cardiovascular and resistance exercise that comes together, working the heart, lungs and muscles simultaneously. This double benefit is probably one of the reasons why it is associated with longevity.

Stair climbing can be a particularly effective form of exercise for several reasons, IIuyomade added. First, it’s a weight-bearing activity that engages multiple muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. This type of resistance training can help maintain lean muscle mass, which is crucial for metabolic health and glucose regulation. Second, the short bursts of high-intensity exercise required during stair climbing can improve cardiorespiratory fitness by challenging the heart and lungs. This style of intermittent exercise has been shown to increase VO2 max, a key marker of cardiovascular efficiency. Finally, climbing stairs is a functional movement pattern that mimics activities of daily living, promoting balance, coordination and mobility.

Dr. Eric J Hegedus, an orthopedic specialist and professor and chairman of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at Tufts University School of Medicine in Massachusetts, said that climbing stairs has clear advantages over walking, another popular form of exercise. low impact

Climbing stairs increases heart rate over level walking and definitely over stationary activities like sitting, taking an elevator or taking an escalator, said Hegedus, who was not involved in the study. Today’s Medical News.

Getting your heart rate up is safe and healthy, he added, while cautioning that it’s important to have the strength and balance to climb stairs.

Hegedus added that almost any exercise is better than none when it comes to improving health.

“For years, we’ve been saying that exercise is medicine and that it’s really beneficial for many of the medical problems that plague our society right now,” he said. If climbing stairs works for you, great. If not, find something you like and do it. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking, running, yoga, lifting weights, or pickleball just get moving.

To incorporate more stair climbing into your routine, I’d recommend starting small and gradually increasing the frequency and length of stair sessions, IIuyomade said. For example, someone might start by taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work or at home, even if it’s just for a flight or two. Over time, they could aim to take on more flights or do so at a faster rate.

Setting specific goals, such as climbing a certain number of steps per day or week, can provide motivation and a sense of accomplishment, she added. It’s also important to listen to your body and take breaks or modify the intensity as needed.

Paddock said research suggests that cardiovascular benefits increase with increased frequency of stair climbing, but that correlation needs to be confirmed through future studies.

Based on these results, we would encourage people to incorporate stair climbing into their daily routine, Paddock said. So, whether it’s at work, at home, or anywhere else, take the stairs.

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