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The stairway to good health
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The stairway to good health

Taking the stairs can provide a range of health benefits, from cardiovascular fitness to muscle conditioning
Climbing the stairs is a personal choice, no doubt, but given the health benefits, and the feasibility factor, people who have no physical deterrents should opt for it.
By climbing one flight of stairs, a person can burn two to five calories

From household chores to a stroll to the neighbourhood shop, most of us invariably end up doing one form of exercise or the other through the course of a regular day. Taking up such activities purposely, including them as timely exertions, can make these a workout routine, an improvised but effective one nonetheless. Taking stairs is one such activity. Of course, it is a personal choice whether to take the stairs or the lift. However, given the health benefits associated with it, those who don’t have any physical deterrents should ideally hit the stairs.

Today’s lifestyle makes it paramount that people get mobile as much as they can.

“The majority of the working population today spend a huge amount of their time sitting in one place,” says Vimal Kumar, a Bengaluru-based fitness trainer. “The lack of physical movement and unbalanced diet results in increased calorie consumption in people. Even a healthy diet with shallow physical movements affects one’s health negatively.”

The general (forced or chosen) habit of sitting for a long period coupled with a carbohydrate-rich diet could lead to lifestyle diseases.

People should understand that even a little amount of physical activity compounded throughout the day is a good idea, rather than none,” says Dr Siri Kamath, consultant physician, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital, Bengaluru. “People think the only way to engage in physical activity is to visit a gym or to get out of the house to do some workouts. They fail to realise that physical activity can start right at home.”

Benefits of climbing stairs

To start with, climbing the stairs is a simple and feasible form of lifestyle physical activity. It can be done by anyone, be it at the home, office, shopping mall or any place the day takes you to. It needs no special training. If something extra is needed, it is the motivation to choose the stairs instead of other convenient means.

Regularity is key to deriving maximum benefits from climbing stairs, says Dr Kamath.

“The muscles such as proximal muscles [upper legs, hips, upper arms, shoulders and the core] and lower back muscles, which are powerful muscles, require exercises for a longer duration of time to derive any benefit,” adds Dr Kamath. “Just climbing one or two flights of stairs doesn’t make any huge difference. One would need to climb up and down the stairs regularly for more time to receive the physical benefits from stair climbing.”

Stairs and cardiovascular health

Any form of physical activity works the cardiovascular system. Taking the stairs, since it involves working against gravity, magnifies those benefits. The way the vitals, especially the breathing, vary while climbing stairs, can in fact be used to monitor improvement in fitness.

“For instance, when someone reports feeling out of breath, we inquire as to whether they have shortness of breath after climbing one flight of stairs or two,” says Dr Tharanath S, consultant physician and assistant professor, Ramaiah Medical College and Hospital, Bengaluru. “It is a form of physical exercise where daily activity is measured [It is a mode of physical activity where we do measure the daily activity of the patient].”

Lowers chances of metabolic syndrome

Physical activities like climbing the stairs can reduce the chances of metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of obesity (mostly truncal obesity), diabetes, hypertension and dyslipidemia (abnormally high levels of lipids or cholesterol in the blood).

“By taking stairs on a regular basis [or by doing any regular physical activity], one can reduce the chance of having obesity and thereby reduce the chance of having increased blood sugars and high blood pressure,” says Dr Tharanath. “In that way, it helps in reducing the chance of having metabolic syndrome. All of these are noncommunicable diseases [NCDs] or lifestyle diseases.

“Diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia are primary diseases. These can lead to complications like heart attacks or strokes as secondary diseases. The set of primary diseases is dependent on three factors: one’s genes, diet and physical activity. By means of physical activity, these tend to modify or reduce the risk of having primary diseases in people.”

Stairs are calorie burners

“It is said that if one person is able to climb one flight of stairs up and down, they will burn two to five calories,” says Dr Kamath. “People can plan properly and do it two to three times a day to make it into an effective physical activity, incorporating it with other physical activities.”

Beyond calories, stairs are akin to hitting the gym for a leg day. It works the lower-body muscles effectively, leading to the building of healthy and lean muscle mass. The thigh muscles, calves, muscles of the feet, glutes and core all get engaged while climbing stairs. “When the muscles get strengthened, the joints are also well preserved,” says Dr Tharanath.

Taking stairs is not for everyone

Taking stairs is not an ideal physical activity for the elderly and people facing musculoskeletal disorders and heart conditions.

“It’s unwise to advise an elderly person to start climbing stairs right away,” says Dr Kamath. “They need to have their doctor examine them first. Whether you climb one or two flights of stairs shouldn’t matter. If they desire to engage in physical activity, such as climbing stairs for 30 minutes each day, they should visit their doctor to be checked for knee, back, heart or other relevant health ailments.”

Dr Tharanath elaborates on how taking stairs badly affects people who have arthritis. “The joint space gets affected in the condition of arthritis. By putting these muscles into action, the joint space gets narrowed, and there’ll be rubbing of the eroded surfaces, which causes more pain,” he says. “Stairs are not suggested to people with cardiac disease and chronic pulmonary diseases.”

Takeaways

  • Taking the stairs, a regular lifestyle physical activity, can offer multiple health advantages.
  • The benefits of climbing stairs include improved cardiovascular health, reduced risk of metabolic syndrome, calorie burning and muscle strengthening.
  • Climbing the stairs as a daily physical activity is not advisable for the elderly and people facing musculoskeletal disorders and heart conditions. 
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