Want to live longer? Take the stairs

People who want to improve their heart health — and maybe even live longer — should make a habit of taking the stairs, if they can, rather than the elevator or escalator, according to a new report.

People who reported regularly climbing stairs had a 39 percent lower risk of death from heart disease and a 24 percent lower risk of dying from any cause, according to the analysis, which pooled the results of nine studies involving more than 480,000 patients in Great Britain. Regular stair-climbing was also associated with a lower risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure.

“We would encourage people to take the stairs when they can,” said study author Sophie Paddock, a clinical fellow in cardiology at the University of East Anglia. “Studies have shown that brief bursts of exercise throughout the day can still have beneficial health impacts.”

Experts say the study’s findings are consistent with earlier studies that suggested stair-climbing was associated with lower cholesterol and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Research also suggests that short bursts of moderate exercise, such as stair-climbing, are linked to a longer life. One study found that climbing more than five flights of stairs, or approximately 50 steps, daily was associated with a lower risk of hardening of the arteries. Health benefits from regularly heading up the stairs happen relatively quickly. An analysis of stair-climbing studies earlier this year found improvements in heart disease risk happen in as little as four weeks.

Another study presented at an American Heart Association conference in 2021 found that taking more of any type of steps per day, either all at once or in shorter spurts, may help people live longer.

Climbing stairs forces both the heart and muscles to work harder, said Tamara Horwich, a cardiologist and health sciences clinical professor of medicine and cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Climbing stairs can help build muscle mass, reduce fat mass, lower the risk of osteoporosis and improve balance, said Horwich.

“I love this study because it provides medical insights to what we instinctively know is true: Movement, all kinds of movement, at all times of the day, is good for heart health,” said Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist and spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. “Stairs challenge us physically, so just by using them more often, we increase our stamina and strength for other focused exercise.”

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week, Steinbaum said. Only about one in five adults gets this much exercise. Even fewer perimenopausal or menopausal women work out this much, even though exercise is one of the best remedies for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms, Steinbaum said.

“When my patients start to move more, in any fashion, I can see the improvements in cardiovascular fitness and endurance within four months,” Steinbaum said

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