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Climbing a few flights of stairs may be better than 10,000 steps

Researchers at Tulane University have found that climbing more than five flights of stairs a day can cut your risk of heart disease by 20 percent. This challenges the popular notion that you must achieve 10,000 daily steps for optimal health benefits. 

The study emphasizes that even a mere 50 steps of stair climbing each day could significantly reduce your risk of heart disease.

Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease

The research provides a new perspective on the role of stair climbing in combating atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD). 

This disease, together with coronary artery disease and stroke, stand as the predominant causes of mortality on a global scale.

“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 study co-author Dr. Lu Qi, a professor at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. 

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

How to study stair climbing 

The researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank for 450,000 adults. They accounted for family history, established risk factors, genetic predispositions, and the participants’ lifestyle habits.

The goal was to measure the susceptibility of the subjects to cardiovascular diseases. Notably, the average follow-up time was 12.5 years.

Stair climbing has benefits for all

The results were remarkable, showing that individuals who were less predisposed to cardiovascular disease benefited most from increased stair climbing. 

However, Dr. Qi stated that even the higher risk individuals can “effectively offset” this susceptibility by adopting daily stair climbing. 

Protective effects of stair climbing 

Dr. Qi pointed out that stairs offer a “low-cost, accessible way to incorporate exercise into daily routines.”

He also noted that the study provides novel evidence for the protective effects of stair climbing on the risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, particularly for individuals with multiple risk factors.

Study implications 

“Climbing more than five flights of stairs (approx 50 steps) daily was associated with a lower risk of ASCVD types independent of disease susceptibility,” wrote the study authors. 

“Participants who stopped stair climbing between the baseline and resurvey had a higher risk of ASCVD compared with those who never climbed stairs.”

Such insights urge us to reconsider our daily routines and potentially introduce a simple yet effective habit of climbing stairs for a healthier heart.

The research is published in the journal Atherosclerosis.

More about exercise and heart health

Exercise, such as climbing a few flights of stairs as discussed above, is undeniably linked to heart health. Engaging in regular physical activity offers a plethora of benefits for cardiovascular well-being. 

Improved circulation

Regular exercise aids in enhancing the circulatory system. As you engage in aerobic activities, your heart rate increases, promoting better blood flow. 

Over time, this can lead to a more efficient heart, which means it can pump more blood with fewer beats.

Lower blood pressure

Exercise helps reduce blood pressure in individuals with hypertension. It aids in keeping the arterial walls flexible, which can mitigate the risk of high blood pressure.

Cholesterol management

Physical activity can raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol, while decreasing levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol. This balance is beneficial for preventing arterial blockage.

Weight control

Exercise, combined with a balanced diet, helps control weight. Obesity is a significant risk factor for heart disease. 

By managing weight, one reduces the strain on the heart and lowers the risk of developing other complications like diabetes.

Strengthened heart muscle

Like any muscle, the heart gets stronger with exercise. A stronger heart can pump blood more efficiently, ensuring that all body parts receive the necessary oxygen and nutrients.

Reduced inflammation

Regular exercise can reduce inflammation, a key contributor to many heart-related diseases.

Stress reduction

Physical activity acts as a natural stress reliever. Chronic stress has been linked to heart disease. By reducing stress levels, you’re indirectly safeguarding your heart.

Blood sugar control

Exercise helps regulate blood sugar levels, decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, a known risk factor for heart disease.

Decreased risk of arrhythmia

Regular exercise can lead to a lower chance of experiencing irregular heart rhythms, or arrhythmias.

Enhanced mental well-being

Exercise has been shown to improve mood and decrease symptoms of depression. Given that mental well-being and heart health are interconnected, this is an added advantage.

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