Climbing Stairs Can Help You Live Longer – Study

People who seek to improve their heart health and live longer should avoid using elevators and go for the stairs.

Despite being often overlooked, stair climbing is a practical and easily accessible form of physical activity. In a new UK study, researchers found that using stairs can lower the risk of heart disease and premature death, compared to using elevators, reported NPR.

Reducing Risks

The new study, presented at ESC Preventive Cardiology 2024 conference in Greece, found that people who usually climb the stairs had about a 24% reduced risk of dying from any cause and a 39% lower likelihood of death from heart disease, compared to people who don’t use stairs. Moreover, they had lower risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The study collected data from 480,000 participants, aged between 35 and 84 years old. 53% of participants were women. Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of nine studies. The findings provided evidence on the benefits of moderate-intensity exercise.

The study author, Dr. Sophie Paddock, of the University of East Anglia and Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital Foundation Trust in the UK, said: “I was surprised that such a simple form of exercise can reduce all-cause mortality.”

“Even brief bursts of physical activity have beneficial health impacts, and short bouts of stair climbing should be an achievable target to integrate into daily routines,” she added.

Dr. Manish Parikh, chief of cardiology at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, explained how the body responds to climbing steps. “Your heart rate goes up, your cardiac output goes up, and your circulatory status improves,” he said.

Stair Climbing

Previous studies showed varied results for the number of flights needed to reduce the risks of heart disease. One study linked climbing 6 to 10 flights a day to a reduced risk of premature death. Another study found that climbing more than 5 flights a day lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 20%.

Paddock said: “Our study suggested that the more stairs climbed, the greater the benefits, but this needs to be confirmed. So, whether at work, home, or elsewhere, take the stairs.”

Paddock’s study analyzed participants’ risk of heart disease based on several factors. It included both healthy participants and people who had history of heart attack or peripheral arterial disease.

According to Everyday Health, researchers concluded that short-bursts of high-intensity stair climbing could be a time-efficient and easily accessible way to improve cardiorespiratory health and blood cholesterol levels.

However, Paddock noted that some of the benefits of stair climbing could be attributed to other healthy habits. She said: “While our systematic review didn’t control for other factors such as diet and other exercise, a lot of the original papers included in the analysis did,” adding that this would be an important factor in future studies.

How to Get Started?

Given its proven benefits, many people might want to add stair climbing to their exercise routine. Dr. Laxmi Mehta, a cardiologist and clinical professor at Wexner Medical Center at the Ohio University, suggested that newbies could start with one flight of stairs and gradually increase their capacity over time.

She said: “I think starting with a flight or two and building from there would be wise. We still don’t know the optimum number of stairs that need to be climbed daily to protect our heart. Some studies have suggested that five to six flights per day (50 to 60 stairs) is sufficient.”

Dr. Mehta warned that certain health conditions may make stair climbing difficult and need medical consultation. These include severe valve disease, severe heart failure, underlying lung conditions, or debilitating joint issues.

In addition, some people may suffer shortness of breath after a flight or two. “This could be due to significant medical issues like uncontrolled high blood pressure, or undiagnosed conditions like coronary artery disease, heart failure, or COPD,” Mehta said. She noted that in some cases, this could be attributed to “weight gain or deconditioning with incline-related exercise” and would improve with time.

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