Forget getting your 10,000 steps – there's a simpler way

Forget getting your 10,000 steps a day – researchers say there’s a simpler way of keeping your heart healthy

  • Climbing just five flights of stairs a day lowers risk of heart attacks and strokes
  • Those who took on 10 flights or more saw risk drop by a fifth, the study suggests

Hitting 10,000 steps a day is a popular fitness goal for millions.

But another exercise target may be even more effective when it comes to boosting heart health, experts believe.

For climbing just five flights of stairs a day may lower your risk of heart attacks and strokes, research suggests.

Yet the benefits appeared even greater for people who managed 10 flights or more, according to results of a decade-long study involving 400,000 Brits.

Climbing stairs offers a short burst of high-intensity exercise, in the same way as skipping or aerobics.

US researchers, who studied more than 400,000 Brits, found climbing just five flights of stairs a day — or 50 steps — lower their risk of heart attacks and strokes

Those who climbed six to 10 flights per day had a 16 per cent lower risk, people who took on 11 to 15 flights had a 22 per cent lower at risk and those who climbed 16 to 20 faced a 23 per cent lower risk, compared to those who opted for lifts or escalators (shown in graphic)

Other examples of such activities — which the NHS recommends we get 75 minutes of a week — include running, swimming and riding a bike fast.

Tulane University scientists monitored the health of 458,860 people in the UK for 12-and-a-half years, on average.

Participants were quizzed on how often they climbed stairs at the start of the study and again five years later.

Over the course of the project, 39,043 developed atherosclerosis, when the arteries become narrowed, making it difficult for blood to flow through them.

The results, published in the journal Atherosclerosis, showed that participants who climbed one to five flights of stairs per day were three per cent less likely to suffer atherosclerosis, compared to those who climbed none.

What is atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is when the arteries become narrowed, making it difficult for blood to flow through them. 

Symptoms include chest pain, pain in the arms and legs and feeling short of breath.

A healthy lifestyle, such as stopping smoking, eating healthily and exercising regularly, can help stop atherosclerosis getting worse.

Treatment includes cholesterol-busting medication and surgery.

But without lifestyle changes and treatment, atherosclerosis can worsen and lead to heart attacks and strokes. 

Meanwhile, volunteers who climbed at least six flights a day had a 16 per cent lower risk.

The researchers concluded that climbing more than five flights of stairs – around 50 steps – was linked with a lower risk of the illness, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Dr Lu Qi, study author, said: ‘Short bursts of high-intensity stair climbing are a time-efficient way to improve cardiorespiratory fitness… especially among those unable to achieve the current physical activity recommendations.’

The findings ‘highlight the potential advantages of stair climbing’ as a preventive measure of atherosclerosis, he said.

However, the study was observational and doesn’t mean that stair climbing lowered participants risk of cardiovascular disease. For example, those who took the stairs may have been physically fitter and followed a healthier lifestyle. 

But the findings add to a wealth of evidence that even minor bouts of exercise can aid health.

Dr Qi noted that stairs are cheap and easy way to incorporate exercise into daily routines.

As well as boosting heart health, experts say stair climbing burns twice the calories of walking and strengthens the lungs and muscles.

He noted that an increased risk of cardiovascular disease among those who were more susceptible – such as people with a family history of the disease, or who had high blood pressure – could ‘effectively offset’ their risk by daily stair climbing.

Around 7.6million Brits and 48million Americans are living with cardiovascular disease, which is the general term for a swathe of conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels.

It is usually linked to a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries (atherosclerosis) and an increased risk of blood clots.

The figures are expected to rise due to ageing and growing populations and improved survival rate from heart and circulatory diseases.

However, cardiovascular disease can be largely prevented by living a healthy lifestyle, such as by quitting smoking, eating a balanced diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and cutting down on alcohol, health chiefs say.

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