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Can’t go to the gym? Take the stairs instead

New study finds that climbing stairs a few times is as beneficial as a regular moderate intensity workout

Taking the stairs a few times a day can have a significant impact on heart health
Taking the stairs a few times a day can have a significant impact on heart health (Bloomberg)

Most gyms are closed and it’s hard to get out and about with all the mobility restrictions in place to control covid’s second surge. For many, home workouts have included climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, but you might wonder if it really helps.

A team of researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, set out to answer this. They studied patients who had undergone cardiac procedures and found that regular stair-climbing routines have significant cardiovascular and muscular benefits. The findings were published in two journals, Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise and Frontiers.

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“Brief, vigorous stair-climbing and traditional moderate intensity exercise both changed fitness, which is a key predictor of mortality after a cardiac event,” Maureen MacDonald, one of the lead researchers and a professor in McMaster’s Department of Kinesiology told Science Daily.

Taking the stairs is not only a way to keep the heart healthy but it can also rebuild damaged muscles of cardiac patients. “We’ve shown stair-climbing is a safe, efficient and feasible option for cardiac rehabilitation, which is particularly relevant during the pandemic when many people don't have the option to exercise in a gym,” she said.

It is well known that exercise and lifestyle changes reduce the risk of secondary cardiovascular disease, but most cardiac patients do not follow regular fitness programmes. The main barriers to getting into a routine are lack of time and no access to a gym or a space to work out. With these findings, the researchers indicate that there are no more excuses as no specialized equipment or facilities are needed.

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The researchers enrolled participants with coronary artery disease who had undergone a cardiac procedure and randomly assigned them to a moderate intensity exercise routine or asked them to climb stairs. Those who had to take the stairs were asked to climb six flights of 12 stairs thrice, separated by periods of walking. The participants could choose their own pace.

On comparing the results, the researchers found that individuals who had done traditional exercise and those who had done stair-climbing both increased their cardiorespiratory fitness after four weeks and maintained those levels for an additional eight weeks, Science Daily reports. They also reported substantial muscular improvement.

“Even in a short period, whether it was moderate intensity, continuous training or high-intensity stair climbing, there were beneficial adaptations in muscles after a cardiac procedure,” said Stuart Phillips, a co-author and a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster. “The improvements were clear.”

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