Doing This Simple Exercise Daily Could Reduce Heart Disease Risk by 20%

Updated: Nov. 01, 2023

Step right up: This action might get you puffing, but a new study led by researchers at Harvard and Tulane suggests just a little could achieve a lot.  

Exercise is known to reduce the risk of heart disease and promote a longer, healthier life. If you’re already getting some movement in,  or you’ve been thinking about kicking off a fitness routine, new research might have just the recommendation for an activity that can complement any workout.

A recent study, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Atherosclerosis by researchers at Tulane University (in collaboration with Harvard University), focused on a particular form of exercise that was surprisingly effective for heart health, even at low levels: Stair climbing.

The study analyzed a large group of adults from the UK Biobank, which is a comprehensive database of over 450,000 adults in the UK between the ages of 40 and 69 years. This database tracks various metrics and changes in participants’ health over time.

The study’s findings revealed that individuals who climbed more than five flights of steps per day, which translates to about 50 stairs, experienced a 20% lower risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, and related complications.

Lu Qi MD, PhD, a co-author of the study and a professor at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, concluded in a press release: “Short bursts of high-intensity stair climbing are a time-efficient way to improve cardiorespiratory fitness.”

The data for the study was collected over an average follow-up period of 12 years. It showed that the more people engaged in stair climbing, the lower their risk of heart disease became.

Additionally, it determined that if you are already a regular stair climber, it’s crucial to maintain your level of activity, as the study revealed some disadvantages to stopping this practice. In fact, those who discontinued stair climbing had a significantly higher risk of heart disease over the course of the study, a striking 32% higher risk compared to those who had never climbed stairs at all.

Stair climbing can be particularly effective, even with reduced steps, because it engages the large leg muscles, the biggest muscle group which catalyzes swift movement of oxygen throughout the body, and serves as both a strength and cardiovascular exercise.

However, as Laura Williams Bustos, a fitness expert with a master’s degree in exercise science, points out, stair climbing can be challenging. It’s important to warm up and start slowly when incorporating this exercise into your daily routine. Integrating stair climbing into your life, such as using the stairs during errands or office visits, is a great idea, but don’t try to sprint up 12 flights on the first day.

Also, if your goal is five flights of stairs per day, make sure the total number of stairs adds up to around 50 steps, as a few short four-step flights might not be quite enough.

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