Climbing more than five flights of stairs a day can decrease the chances of heart disease, study suggests

Climbing stairs is great exercise — and helps heart health  (Getty Images)
Climbing stairs is great exercise — and helps heart health (Getty Images)

Cardio isn’t so bad if you take it in small steps.

Climbing at least 50 stairs each day could significantly slash your risk of heart disease, according to a new study.

The research, published in the journal Atherosclerosis, found that ascending more than five flights of stairs daily could reduce the risk of cardiovascular ailments by about 20 per cent.

Cardiovascular diseases such as Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) along with coronary artery disease and strokes are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide.

“Short bursts of high-intensity stair climbing are a time-efficient way to improve cardiorespiratory fitness and lipid profile, especially among those unable to achieve the current physical activity recommendations,” said co-author Dr Lu Qi, HCA Regents Chair and professor at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans.

“These findings highlight the potential advantages of stair climbing as a primary preventive measure for ASCVD in the general population.”

For the study, researchers used data from a UK Biobank of 450,000 adults and participants were analysed based on their family history of cardiovascular disease as well as their genetic risk factors and established risk factors.

Participants were also asked about their lifestyle habits and their frequency of climbing stairs, with the median follow-up time being 12.5 years.

The results revealed that climbing more stairs daily reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease in those who were less susceptible, with Dr Qi saying the increased risk of heart disease in more susceptible people could be “effectively offset”.

“This study provides novel evidence for the protective effects of stair climbing on the risk of ASCVD, particularly for individuals with multiple ASCVD risk factors,” Dr Qi added.

‘A significant training effect’

Dr Nicolas Berger, a senior lecturer in sport and exercise at England’s Teesside University, who was not a part of the study, says walking up staircases has more benefits than walking on a flat surface because it “requires the use of more muscles as well as some balance and gross motor skills.”

He says even though these may be in “short bursts”, it still “requires a lot of activity from your cardiovascular system and that is why people often find themselves out of breath whilst climbing stairs.

“These short, intermittent bursts of activity have large benefits in terms of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. They can significantly increase your heart rate and oxygen uptake and cause positive adaptations in the body,” Dr Berger adds.

Although 50 steps a day might not seem like much “it can have a significant training effect.”

This type of movement activates muscles such as the glutes, quads, hamstring and calves, as well as muscles in the core, Dr Berger says.

If you are not much of a runner, Dr Berger suggests taking stairs may be a useful option.

“It’s an attractive alternative to just walking or running for many, due to the easy access for most people in their houses or when out.

“If there are no stairs available, walking up and down steep gradients also has similar benefits and demands. Getting up off the floor or low ground has benefits in terms of strength and balance, but not so much for the cardiovascular system.

“Overall, incorporating this activity into daily habits for sedentary people, people at risk or anyone trying to stay healthy is a good suggestion,” he adds.