Does taking stairs at work really help your health?

A 2017 study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, details a stair climbing experiment with 31 sedentary but otherwise healthy women. It found brief, intense stair climbing is a practical, time-efficient strategy to improve cardiorespiratory fitness in previously untrained women.

When it comes to getting heart-healthy exercise at the office, it turns out you don’t need a gym, shower or change of clothes. All you need is a set of stairs and 30 minutes a week.

The study tested the effect of two different stair climbing exercise routines that included warm-up, cool down and recovery periods, for a total investment of 10 minutes, three times a week.

The first routine involved three, 20-second bouts of continuous climbing in an “all-out” manner.

For the second experiment, participants vigorously climbed up and down one flight of stairs in one-minute intervals.

Both routines produced major benefits for heart health.

“Whether we are sitting still at a desk, couch, or in a car, many Americans fall below the recommended minimum guidelines for exercise, which creates chronic disease straining the health care system,” says Dr. Dory Jarzabkowski, a cardiologist with Advocate Heart Institute at BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill.

Dr. Jarzabkowski says patients can feel intimidated to start being active because they overestimate the amount of time they need to reap benefits and expect fat to melt off immediately. Although it is best to have sustained aerobic activity for 10 minute increments, sometimes there isn’t enough time, she says.

“Simply adding stairs, lunges or walking to your daily routine won’t transform you into a super model, but any and all activity is good for the heart,” Dr. Jarzabkowski says. “Getting your blood pumping and joints moving fights chronic disease and positively impacts mental wellbeing.”

The underlining science behind the results lies in sprint interval training (SIT), which involves brief bursts of vigorous exercise separated by short periods of recovery.

Stuck in a one-story building without stairs? Try stationary or walking lunges, which are similar in technique and target the same muscle groups as stair walking.

As with all new exercise, participants should take their age, health condition and fitness goals into consideration, Dr. Jarzabkowski says. If you are having heart, balance or joint issues, are elderly or pregnant, then seek a doctor’s clearance before doing any type of stair climbing. If you experience chest pain, light headedness or difficulty breathing then stop and visit a health care professional before continuing again.

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