The Health Benefits of Stair Climbing Exercise

Dr. Kenneth Hunt vividly remembers how, as a high school football player in the 1990s, he and his teammates often ran up and down stadium stairs during practice. Their coach made the players run the steps as part of the team’s conditioning regimen to strengthen their legs, improve their cardiovascular systems and boost their balance.

a person standing in front of a building: Woman exercising on a staircase outside in the city.

As a player, Hunt experienced how the workouts made him stronger. Today, as the medical director of the UCHealth Foot and Ankle Center – Stapleton in Denver, Hunt advises patients that climbing stairs – whether you’re working your way up and down actual steps or exercising on a stair climbing machine – can be an efficient and safe way to exercise multiple muscle groups.

“Climbing stairs can be an effective exercise for strengthening muscles, improving your balance and boosting your cardiovascular health,” Hunt says. This form of exercise is typically safe for most healthy people, though it can pose a health risk for some, he says. For example, if you have trouble with your balance and are prone to falling or have weakness, stiffness or pain in your feet, ankles, knees or hips, any kind of stair climbing may not be right for you. The same holds true if you have an inflammatory condition like arthritis, bursitis or degenerative joint disease. If you have these issues, you should check with a physical therapist or your primary care physician before initiating a stair climbing regimen, Hunt advises.

By strengthening leg muscles and joints, stair climbing can translate into improved function with daily activities, says Eric Sampsell, a physical therapist for The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics in Hagerstown, Maryland. Stair climbing can also improve energy levels and lower the risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and osteoporosis, Sampsell says.

Here are five health benefits of stair climbing exercise:

  • It engages multiple muscles.
  • It improves balance.
  • It’s an efficient, low-impact cardio workout.
  • It boosts fitness.
  • It lowers mortality risk.

1. It engages multiple muscles.

Stair-climbing exercises engage more muscles than walking, jogging or running on flat terrain, Hunt says. Moving on flat ground engages your leg muscles, while stair climbing also works out your glutes and provides a more thorough workout for your quads and hamstrings. “Stair climbing requires a lot more muscular engagement and muscular force,” he says.

2. It improves balance.

Whether you’re climbing actual stairs or working out on a stair-climbing device, you’ll have to engage the stabilizing muscles in your foot and ankle and the peroneal tendons to maintain balance, Hunt says. (There are two peroneal tendons in each leg, along the fibula. One is attached to the outer section of the foot near the little toe’s base. The other runs underneath the arch of the foot.)

3. It’s an efficient, low-impact cardio workout.

Because you have to engage more muscle groups and exert yourself more than if you were on flat ground, stair climbing is an effective and time-efficient cardio workout. “Your heart rate goes up when you’re climbing stairs,” Hunt says.

4. It boosts fitness.

A study published in January in the Canadian journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism suggests that adhering to a stair climbing “snacking” regimen improves fitness in healthy, sedentary adults. Researchers studied the effects of stair climbing in 24 young, physically inactive adults. Rather than exercising by climbing steps in a single continuous session, the participants did their exercises in several shorter bouts spread throughout the day – “snacking.” Climbing stairs over a period of three to 12 minutes intermittently was superior to working out continually for improving blood sugar control in people with insulin resistance, researchers found. The snacking protocol resulted in a 12% increase in cycling peak power, according to the study.

5. It lowers mortality risk.

Stair climbing can also lower the risk of death from all causes, according to research published in 2019 by the Harvard Health Alumni Study. The study involved more than 8,000 men between ages 65 and 71. Researchers found an association between climbing a higher number of floors and lower mortality from all causes.

View the entire article here where you will learn Stair Climbing Strategies that can boost your fitness level.

Also, you must incorporate resistance training to strengthen your muscles and stoke your calorie burning furnace. Get more information by visiting How to Prevent Pre-diabetes.

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