Did you know that regularly using stairs could save your life? Studies show that climbing just eight flights of stairs a day can improve your health and lower your risk of early death by as much as a third. So popular has this form of exercise become that you can even get free smartphone apps to count the number of steps and record how many calories have been burned off. Here are six ways that climbing stairs on a regular basis can benefit you:
1. Builds bone and muscle strength
Stair climbing is basically a more strenuous form of walking. Because you have to pull against gravity, it demands greater effort, so you get more of a workout. The exercise is great for your body, increasing your bone density, strength and muscle tone - so the likelihood of developing osteoporosis is considerably reduced.
2. Helps your heart
By raising your heart rate, stair climbing helps prevent blocked arteries and high blood pressure. This boost to your cardiovascular system lowers the risk of succumbing to serious conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and vascular dementia.
3. Aids weight loss
This surprisingly vigorous form of exercise actually burns more calories per minute than jogging. And the good news is that the heavier you are, the more calories you will expend. Even when you go upstairs at a normal pace, you'll use at least double the amount of energy than if you were walking briskly on level ground.
4. Relieves stress
Going up stairs will also improve your mental state, as the physical exertion releases pain-killing endorphins - the feel-good hormones that release tension and give your spirits a lift. The regular exercise will raise your energy levels, making you generally feel better about the world.
5. Fits in with busy lifestyles
Regular exercise can make a real difference to people's long-term health, so finding an activity that you are able to sustain over the years will be invaluable for your fitness levels. Unlike going to the gym, climbing stairs is convenient, flexible and time-efficient. You can begin with just one or two flights, and increase gradually. Even if you're a busy commuter, you can use staircases in public places such as train stations, office buildings and multi-storey car parks.
6. Costs nothing
One of the best things about stair climbing is that it's free. No sports club fees or gym subscription, no equipment or special clothing to buy... it's just you, and as many steps as you feel able to tackle.
A few tips...
So, which types of stairs are best for climbing? Any long flight of stairs provides the opportunity for a good workout, although some are better than others. Wooden stairs are more comfortable than metal or concrete ones as their treads provide more shock absorption, and carpeted staircases are better still. Curved stairs are just as good as straight ones for providing exercise. Even loft stairs and space saver staircases have their uses, as long as you’re careful. If you have to use an escalator, walk all the way up it. As the steps are deeper than those in an average staircase, it will still do you good.
Aim for between three and five stair-climbing sessions a week to get the most from your new regime. If you're not used to exercise you should start slowly, perhaps just climbing for five or 10 minutes at first. You can work up to 30 minutes or even an hour eventually, if you feel confident.
Can anyone exercise this way?
People with knee or hip problems are not advised to climb stairs unnecessarily as the stepping action can aggravate their condition. This is particularly true when going down, as the joints come under extra strain. Anyone concerned about their health should have a word with their doctor first.