Climbing 50 stairs a day may stave off heart disease — while living near a park or lake can keep you mentally well. How to improve your health, according to new studies

(Getty Images)
Climbing stairs may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. (Getty Images)

There’s so much health and wellness news out there. Here are some of this week’s health headlines and what you can take away from them to better impact your health.

Cycling may improve mental health

A survey of 1,200 middle school students who participated in a cycling program found improvements in their mental health and physiological well-being. The improvements appeared especially significant in students who were ethnic minorities from low-income families.

Why it matters: Cycling combines transportation, leisure and exercise — three things that can benefit young people greatly once they learn how to ride safely. For older individuals, the same reasoning can be applied to dusting off your own bike: A 2017 study found that people who commuted by bike to work had lower risk for certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

Climbing stairs may impact heart health

A U.K.-based study published in the journal Atherosclerosis found that people who climbed 50 stairs over the course of a day reduced their risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and of cardiovascular disease in general by 20% when compared to people who did not climb any stairs daily.

Study author Dr. Lu Qi, director of Tulane University’s Obesity Research Center, told Medical News Today that stair climbing is a “vigorous exercise” which is associated with “lowering body weight, improving metabolic status and inflammation, and reducing other diseases which may increase the risk of heart disease, such as diabetes.”

Why it matters: We know that getting your heart pumping is important for your overall health, yet many people say they struggle to fit exercise into their lives. Choosing to take the stairs wherever you can, as evidenced by this study, is one potentially easy way to reap the benefits of exercise without overhauling your lifestyle.

Living near 'green' or 'blue' spaces may benefit mental health

A 10-year study out of the U.K. published in the journal Planetary Health found that greater exposure to green and blue spaces — such as living near a park or a lake, respectively — reduced your likelihood of developing a mental health condition.

Why it matters: There’s mounting evidence that suggests natural spaces may benefit mental health. A recent study suggested that fishing benefited mental health in men — but that the correlation had less to do with angling itself, and more to do with access to blue spaces. Whether you live somewhere with access to more natural environments or not, seeking them out whenever possible can allow you to reap some of these benefits.

Your Apple Watch can now tell you how much sunlight you’re getting

A new feature in the Apple Watch series 6 or later tracks how much time in the sun you’re getting, which is made possible by the wearable’s ambient light sensor, as well as its GPS and motion sensors.

Why it matters: If you already track the amount of steps you take each day, you may benefit from also tracking your time in the sun. Morning sunlight, for example, can help improve your sleep later on, and exposure to sunlight in general can help raise vitamin D levels, which are important for boosting immunity and energy. Of course, it’s also important to be aware of the risk of sun exposure, which can lead to skin cancer — so if you're tracking your sunlight with your watch, you might want to also use it as a reminder to keep the time limited and to reapply sunscreen.

Children may benefit greatly from practicing mindfulness

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that children who used a mindfulness app at home for 40 days reduced their stress levels, as well as reporting lower negative emotions like fear and loneliness overall. The study, which was conducted in 2020 and 2021 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed researchers to see how children with higher levels of mindfulness appeared less emotionally affected by the global crisis.

Why it matters: Mindfulness has long been studied for its mental health benefits — a 2023 study showed that mindfulness techniques, when practiced over time, may be as effective as taking medication.

Many parents are now teaching their children how to be mindful as well. Sarah Ezrin, author of The Yoga of Parenting, previously told Yahoo Life, “I wasn't taught any self-regulation techniques as a kid. I had to learn them all as an adult and, while they've been inordinately helpful, I can only imagine what learning these right out the gate can do for our development, mood regulation and emotional regulation skills.”