Climbing stairs has lots of health benefits. Here are 3 ways to make the most of it.

Experts share why stair climbing is good for you — and how to get more out of it.
Experts share why stair climbing is good for you — and how to get more out of it. (Getty Images)

It may not seem like it when you're living in a fourth-floor walk-up apartment, or have to take the stairs because the elevator at work is down, but all that stair climbing comes with a lot of benefits. For starters, it good for your heart health.

“We know just changing the grade or slope — the equivalent of walking up stairs — provides a greater stress on the heart, lungs and body,” Dr. Laurence Sperling, a cardiologist with Emory Heart and Vascular and the Katz Professor in Preventative Cardiology at Emory School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. This makes stair climbing a great way to improve one’s aerobic fitness, he says. “If you take the stairs whenever you have an opportunity or walk up a hill whenever you have an opportunity, there are cumulative health benefits to that.”

A new study recently presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s Preventative Cardiology 2024 congress shows that the cumulative benefits of stair climbing may also help us live longer lives. “Our systematic review and meta-analysis found that stair climbing was associated with a reduction in both all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, as well as reduced incidence of cardiovascular diseases including heart failure, heart attack and stroke,” study author Dr. Sophie Paddock tells Yahoo Life via email. The study found that stair climbing was associated with a 24% reduced risk of death from any cause and a 39% lower likelihood of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Along with strengthening the glutes and muscles in the legs, stair climbing is also a good indicator of overall health. “[Personal fitness] can be gauged by your ability to walk up a flight or two flights or five flights of stairs," says Sperling. “If you’re noticing a decline in the ability to climb stairs, more from a fitness and/or respiratory capability standpoint, that’s really helpful to bring up to your doctor or clinical team because that might be a clue to underlying health concerns."

Want to get more out of stair climbing? Physical therapist Dan Ginader, better-known as "Dr. Dan" to his almost 1 million TikTok followers, has some advice.

Most of the cardio and muscular benefits of stair climbing happen when going up; while walking down stairs improves coordination and control, it doesn’t force the heart to work as hard as climbing up. To get the most out of your steps, people should climb stairs in a physical place where they can spend more time going up. Ginader suggests heading to a stairwell or stadium with several rows of steps.

“If I were to do stairs for exercise, I think the best way to do it is a stairwell, somewhere with a seemingly endless amount of actual physical steps you can go up and down,” he tells Yahoo Life.

What's more, Ginader says "there’s no way to cheat a set of stairs," which is why he prefers actual stairs to using a StairMaster at the gym. On the StairMaster, he notes, people can “cheat it a little” when they ride the stair down with one leg because they don’t have to push off it as hard with the opposite leg when climbing up to the next step.

While climbing somewhere with many physical steps is optimal, Ginader wants people to know that the stairs in their house will also work, if you don't mind having to turn around frequently.

“There’s no right or wrong way to go up or down stairs. People do it every day,” Ginader says. But, people can change the primary muscle group that is working if they change the pressure in their foot.

Putting pressure in the front of the foot when stepping works calves and quads, while putting pressure in the heel works the glutes and hamstrings. “[It’s] probably a good idea to go back and forth between the two and make sure you are working different muscle groups,” Ginader says. People can also walk up the stairs sideways to work the sides of their hips.

Changing the muscle group can be especially helpful for people who suffer from knee pain. Ginader’s experience has been that many people who don’t like to climb stairs claim that it hurts their knees, but, he says, a lot of these people are actually feeling the pain in their quads. Ginader suggests people who have knee pain push through their heel and put their whole foot on the stairs as they climb to “navigate the stairs without pain.”

“If going up the stairs is too easy for you, you can do things like put on a weighted vest to make it harder,” Ginader advises. People can also skip a step, which forces the muscles to work a little bit harder.