Stairs as Fitness Tool?

Walking up stairs is one of the best-kept secrets in preventive medicine.

Coaches, cardiologists and housewives have long been in on the secret. Many football coaches “ask” their players to charge up flight after flight of stadium steps to get in shape, and other competitive athletes put gymnasium stairwells to similar use. In the days before stress testing held sway, doctors would often walk up stairs with their patients to check out cardiopulmonary function.

Researchers in Canada found in their study that nearly everyone huffs and puffs while taking the stairs.

Begin modestly with a flight or two, and then add more as you improve. Take the stairs whenever you can; if you have a long way to go, walk part way, and then switch to an elevator. Use the railing for balance and security, and don’t try the stairs after a heavy meal or if you feel unwell.

Even at a slow pace, you’ll burn calories two to three times faster climbing stairs than walking briskly on the level ground. The Harvard Alumni Study found that men who average at least eight flights a day enjoy a 33 percent lower mortality rate than men who are sedentary — and that’s even better than the 22 percent lower death rate men earned by walking 1.3 miles a day.

Since every little bit of exercise is a step forward on the long road to health, walking down stairs is also a plus. But while gravity makes walking up tough, it makes walking down easy on the heart.

Since you’ll burn less than a third as many calories going down a flight as going up, don’t count on walking down to build fitness or shed fat. Still, you use different muscles going down, and they contract differently at that, so going down does make a contribution to your legs. It may also improve balance, but since many people are a bit challenged in that department, it’s wise to use the railing, or at least be railing-ready.

Source: New York Times article “Stairs as a Fitness Tool?” by HARVEY B. SIMON, M.D.