Taking the Stairs May Lower Heart Risk by 20 Percent

We all know that getting exercise is an essential part of staying healthy. Ensuring you work physical movement into your day and get your blood moving helps you reach your health goals. Researchers sometimes quantify the exact amount of exercise we need to reach a specific goal.

According to a new study, climbing five flights of stairs, or 50 steps, daily can lower the risk of heart diseases by 20 percent. The illnesses include coronary artery disease and stroke. The study tracked the health and lifestyle data of more than 458,000 adults for about 12.5 years.

Short bursts of high-intensity stair climbing are a time-efficient way to improve cardiorespiratory fitness,” said study co-author Dr Lu Qi, a professor at the Tulane Univ. School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.  

After ruling out factors like family history, established risk factors and lifestyle differences, they found that people who climbed 50 steps daily were 20 percent less likely to experience heart disease. Climbing stairs uses more muscles, balance and gross motor skills than walking on flat surfaces. It also increases heart rate and oxygen intake for a short period.

Dr. Qi said that taking the stairs could be an effective and cost-effective way of preventing heart disease.

While we agree that taking the stairs helps heart health, some questions about the study do linger with us. We can’t find a press release that lists the ages of the people in the study. The data was from the UK Biobank. It might be that the people came from a wide range of ages. But, as we grow older, we tend to have more problems with stairs. We would like to know if one of the factors they controlled for was age and ability to climb stairs.

One person on our team lives on the fourth floor of an apartment building. When her mother visits San Diego, she always stays with our team member’s brother because four flights of stairs are too much for her to handle for the length of a visit. Meanwhile, our team member jokes that half her exercise comes from living on the fourth floor and being forgetful — she’s up and down the stairs at least five times a day.

If the researchers didn’t consider that older people might have a harder time with stairs, the more accurate conclusion to the study might be, “Younger people go up more stairs and also have better heart health.” Or it’s possible that the conclusion is backward, and it’s possibly, “People with good hearts never seek out the elevator.”

We hope this study is correct and that taking the stairs can lower the risk of heart disease by 20 percent. If you can take the stairs, you should. It’s great for your health and your heart. Stairs are an excellent form of exercise that can help you get and stay fit. But this find might not be as cut and dry as it seems. Correlation is not causation. From the press releases, this study does not appear to prove that climbing 50 stairs will prevent heart diseases, just that people who climb stairs are less likely to have heart diseases.

Banner image: THIS IS ZUN via Pexels

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