Stair climbing is moving up in popularity. It’s a great way to burn calories, relieve stress, and tone muscles. And it can be done for free—anywhere.
By Christopher Walker, Chief of Adult and Family Medicine with Kaiser Permanente in Vacaville
One of my favorite things about California is that we really go out of our way to weave exercise into our daily lives.
Whether a quick walk at lunch or a weekend hike with the family, I try and find time to make exercise a priority.
One of the easiest ways to enhance your overall health throughout the day is probably closer to you than you think.
It won’t cost you a cent. All you need are some sturdy shoes and a couple of extra minutes to spare. (And your physician’s OK.)
The big secret? Stair climbing.
Whether you are trying to avoid the crowds at the elevators or just looking to add a few steps to your day, there are numerous health benefits to stair walking.
Stair walking is great for those who are new to exercise, or who want to layer on an added cardio workout.
The best part about taking the stairs is that you can do it practically anywhere. You can fit in stair climbing at the office, hotels or airports when you travel, or in public places ranging from parks and museums to department stores.
There’s no monthly fee. No special exercise equipment is required. You can go up and down hundreds of steps—or just a few. It can be a solitary activity, or a means to socialize with friends and colleagues. (Just be sure to do it safely, using handrails, not rushing, and avoiding any distractions.)
Beyond the cardio workout and prevention of heart ailments, there are other benefits of stair climbing.
One of the best benefits to stair walking is weight reduction. With more than two-thirds of American adults overweight or obese, it’s clear that we need to start making time for our health—and stair climbing is a literal step in the right direction.
A 155-pound person burns 281 calories in 30 minutes of climbing stairs. While that may not seem like a lot of calories, it’s the same number you would burn if running 5 miles per hour, and even more than if you were walking on a flat surface. (And think of the calories burned if you climbed daily!)
In addition, stair climbing is a great activity for blood circulation, as well as for building strength in and toning your gluteal muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves. Strengthening these muscles can reduce your risk of injuries and promote increased bone density.
Stair climbing can also be good for stress reduction. It can be hard these days to get away from distractions like email, smart phones, and instant messaging.
Climbing stairs is a way to unplug and reclaim a little time for yourself in your day.
The lift you might feel in your mood and thinking is actually a benefit of increased amounts of the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline that climbing release.
Patients are sometimes surprised at how challenging stair climbing can be—at first.
That’s because climbers use specific, under-used leg muscles, while their lungs are hard at work, too.
If you are ready to add stair climbing into your life, I recommend starting out with just a flight or two at a relaxed pace. Add a flight every week or so, and increase your pace when you’re able. Stair climbing is like other exercise activities in that you’ll be motivated to do more if you set a firm goal.
And if you find it too dull or monotonous, listen to some music to help set the pace and provide some musical motivation.
As a physician, I really enjoy helping people live happier and healthier lives through preventive care and maintenance. Stair walking is a great choice to help stay healthy and strong.
For more information on ways to stay healthy, visit kp.org/fitness.