Taking the Stairs May Reduce Risk of Heart Disease and Premature Death

Looking for a simple way to improve your heart health and live longer? Skip the elevator or escalator and take the stairs, according to a new U.K. study. Researchers found that people who regularly took the stairs had a lower risk of dying of heart disease and dying from any cause, compared with people who skipped them. The research was presented today at ESC Preventive Cardiology 2024, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). “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,” said Dr. Paddock. Any and All Activities Count Toward Your Weekly Physical Activity Goal Previous recommendations stated that a “bout” of exercise had to last at least 10 minutes to count toward the goal of 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate physical activity or 75 to 100 minutes of vigorous activity. The updated guidelines, however, changed that to say any activity — even things like a brisk walk across the parking lot or vacuuming the house — can count toward your daily activity goals. Climbing Stairs Reduced the Risk of Death by Nearly 40 Percent To find out if something as simple as climbing stairs could reduce the risks of heart disease and premature death, researchers collected the best available evidence and conducted a meta-analysis of nine studies with nearly half a million participants. Both healthy participants and people with a previous history of heart attack or peripheral arterial disease were included, and ages ranged from 35 to 84 years old. Compared with not climbing stairs, stair climbing was associated with a 24 percent lower risk of dying from any cause and a 39 percent lower likelihood of dying from heart disease. Taking the stairs was also linked with a reduced risk of heart disease, including heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. These findings suggest that incorporating stair climbing into your day-to-day life could have protective benefits, said Paddock. Could some of these benefits exist because people who take the stairs have other healthy habits, including exercising regularly or eating a healthy diet? Maybe, says Paddock. “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. This would be an important factor in future studies, especially if we were to objectively measure the optimum quantity and intensity of stair climbing, which I think is important to do,” she says. How Many Stairs Does It Take to Reap Health Benefits? “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,” said Paddock. Those findings showed that short bursts of high-intensity stair climbing could be a time-efficient and easily accessible way to improve cardiorespiratory fitness and blood cholesterol levels, the authors concluded. And unlike more structured exercise activities, there’s no special equipment or gym fees required, they wrote. It Could Be Difficult for People With Certain Conditions to Start Climbing Stairs There are certain health conditions that may make climbing stairs difficult, says Mehta. “For example, severe valve disease, severe heart failure, underlying lung conditions, or debilitating joint issues. If someone is unsure about the safety of stair climbing, then they need to speak with their physician,” she says. 5 Flights of Stairs Sound Impossible? Here’s How to Get Started Given the proven benefits, stair climbing could be a good way to incorporate small bursts of exercise throughout the day and should be achievable for most people, says Mehta. She suggests that exercise newbies start out with one flight of stairs and slowly build up their capacity over time. “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 (like the one mentioned above) have suggested that five to six flights per day (50 to 60 stairs) is sufficient,” says Mehta. If you’re absolutely out of breath after just a flight or two, does this mean you’ve taken on too much or will your body adjust? If you’re completely winded after walking up a flight of stairs or two, it’s important to discuss this with your provider, she says. “Sometimes the shortness of breath could be due to significant medical issues like uncontrolled high blood pressure, or undiagnosed conditions like coronary artery disease, heart failure, or COPD,” says Mehta. You also may not have any of those things — it’s best to let your provider determine that, she says. “In some cases, being winded could be due to weight gain or deconditioning with incline-related exercise, and could get better as your conditioning improves,” says Mehta. Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking Everyday Health follows strict sourcing guidelines to ensure the accuracy of its content, outlined in our editorial policy. We use only trustworthy sources, including peer-reviewed studies, board-certified medical experts, patients with lived experience, and information from top institutions. Sources Climb Stairs to Live Longer. EurekAlert! April 26, 2024. Physical Activity Guidelines, 2nd Edition. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2018. Physical Activity Among Adults Aged 18 and Over: United States, 2020. National Center for Health Statistics. August 2022. Song Z et al. Daily Stair Climbing, Disease Susceptibility, and Risk of Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease: A Prospective Cohort Study. Atherosclerosis . September 15, 2023.

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