You may be very committed to the idea of fitness - regular exercise and a balanced diet - yet life often gets in the way. Most of the time, you’re in a hurry to get out of the house for work. You rush through meals or skip them altogether to make time to pick up the kids from school. Or you compromise on sleep to wake up early when you have a flight to catch.

Whatever the immediate reason, the end result is the same. In the rush to get everything done, that New Year resolution to go to the gym or for an early morning run takes a back seat. By the time you return from work, exercise is the last thing on your mind.

Preparing elaborate meals or sticking to a diet plan is a much tougher proposition than taking a simple daily activity and turning it into a lifestyle that can be followed. Instead of taking the elevator to reach your home or place of work, why not switch to climbing the stairs? 

Shaking up your sedentary lifestyle and introducing more activity in your daily life is important to maintaining good heart health and reducing the chances of early illnesses. Climbing stairs breaks up the time spent in elevators by bringing in essential cardiovascular activity in its place.

  1. Benefits of climbing stairs
  2. Takeaways

There are plenty of health benefits of taking the stairs instead of the elevator, especially if you make it a part of your daily life. Here are a few examples:

Climbing stairs is good for heart health

The cardio activity you have been craving because of a lack of time in your schedule can easily be replaced by taking a few flights of stairs to your office, home or the shopping centre you go to. A research performed in Canada concluded that climbing stairs was twice as demanding as walking on an even surface, and even more difficult than walking up an inclined surface. In fact, climbing stairs was deemed more difficult than even lifting weights, as climbing stairs tires you out quicker than any of the other activities.

On a separate note, people who have had a procedure like angioplasty or surgery like coronary artery bypass graft can also to take the stairs after a while. Check with your doctor for the proper exercises after bypass heart surgery and other procedures.

Climbing stairs for weight loss

Climbing stairs is a surprisingly efficient way to burn calories. In fact, climbing stairs burns two to three times more calories than walking at a brisk pace on an even surface. The vertical movement of stair climbing as compared to walking on an even surface makes it a more energy-consuming activity, thereby even more efficient in burning calories than jogging. As a result, climbing stairs is an effective weight-loss method.

Research shows that climbing stair multiple times in a day is like "exercise snacks" or short bursts of activity that help you burn calories, increase stamina and become stronger every day.

Climb stairs for knee health

As compared to running on a road or a pavement, climbing stairs is a low-impact exercise, making it much easier on the knees and other joints in the lower half of the body. Because of this, those who regularly go running or jogging have a comparatively higher chance of suffering from injuries as compared to those who walk or climb stairs frequently.

Climbing stairs can also provide relief from knee pain. This is because taking stairs helps to strengthen the muscles around the knee joint, and eventually take the load off the knee.

That said, you should talk to a physiotherapist before taking up any exercise - whether you have knee pain because you are recovering from an ACL injury or because you have arthritis, your doctor should decide which exercises you should do depending on the seriousness of your condition and the stage of recovery you're in.

Some of the key precautions to keep in mind if you are climbing steps with a knee condition are:

  • Stop immediately if you feel a sharp, stabbing pain.
  • Avoid overdoing the workout - instead, take it slow and gradually increase the number of stairs you climb unassisted.
  • If you have had surgery, like a knee replacement surgery, check with your doctor or physiotherapist to know when you can safely start taking the stairs.
  • While going up the stair, lead with your dominant leg. For example, if your right leg is stronger, take the first stair with your right. While coming down the steps, lead with your weaker side.

Read more: Cracking sound in knee

Climbing stairs for toning the legs and hips

Climbing stairs helps build and work on almost every muscle in the lower body, including the hips,  thighs and calves. The upward movement in stair climbing means the lower body has to work against gravity, thereby creating more resistance and promoting muscle growth as a result. It is also a great exercise to tone and shape the legs and buttocks.

Research shows that climbing stairs improves strength in the leg muscles in older adults, and reduces the risk of falling.

Climbing stairs improves balance

The climbing movement requires both legs to work with the same intensity simultaneously, which promotes better balance in the body. The vertical movement in climbing stairs engages the muscles in the legs to stabilize the upper body, thereby improving the overall balance. Those who have difficulty balancing themselves while climbing stairs, however, must hold onto the railing for additional stability.

Easy availability of stairs everywhere

Every building that has elevators has a staircase. Running or walking may require long stretches of a track or road, but stairs are easy to find anywhere. The mall that you frequently visit, your office or even urban homes have staircases in the building, which makes it easy to use stairs frequently for a daily workout.

Added bonus: climbing stairs doesn't cost you anything, unlike signing up at a gym or a fitness centre.

Climbing stairs lowers mortality

A study done at Harvard  University in 2019 found that men who took eight or so flights of stairs in a day had a 33% lower mortality rate than sedentary men. That statistic bettered even those who walked over a mile a day, as they had a 22% lower rate of mortality in comparison. The activity encourages the heart to pump faster at frequent intervals, which is necessary for improved cardiovascular health. It can be done over several intervals and does not require a set time to do it.

Climbing stairs creates feelings of positivity

Any kind of physical activity is associated with benefits to mental health. Climbing stairs is no exception. Intense exercise helps the body release endorphins, also known as the happy hormone. These endorphins help in keeping illnesses related to stress at bay and under your control.

Climbing stairs may not be the first choice of physical activity among the physically active, but it is an excellent activity to begin your journey towards better health. The activity is suited to people of all ages with the exception of those with pre-existing conditions like brittle bones or weak joints.

Ditching the elevator for stairs has many health benefits - including improving heart health, increasing stamina and raising endurance levels. It also works wonders for strengthening the joints and muscles in the body and improving blood flow in the legs.

Climbing stairs is also an activity that doesn’t require additional investments in gear and clothing. It can be done at any time of the day as it is primarily an indoor activity - and unaffected by changes in weather conditions.

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References

  1. Health Harvard Publishing: Harvard Medical School [Internet]. Harvard University, Cambridge. Massachusetts. USA; Walking: Your steps to health.
  2. Hongu N et al. Promoting Stair Climbing as an Exercise Routine among Healthy Older Adults Attending a Community-Based Physical Activity Program. Sports (Basel). 2019 Jan; 7(1): 23. PMID: 30669254.
  3. Donath L et al. Effects of stair-climbing on balance, gait, strength, resting heart rate, and submaximal endurance in healthy seniors. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 2013 Aug; 24(2).
  4. Halsey L et al. The Energy Expenditure of Stair Climbing One Step and Two Steps at a Time: Estimations from Measures of Heart Rate. PLoS ONE. 2012 Dec; 7(12):e51213.
  5. Jenkins EM et al. Do stair climbing exercise “snacks” improve cardiorespiratory fitness? Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2019 Jan; 44: 681–684.
  6. Boreham CAG et al. Training effects of short bouts of stair climbing on cardiorespiratory fitness, blood lipids, and homocysteine in sedentary young women. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2005 Aug; 39:590-593.
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