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The stairwell, it seems, is a highway to heart health


The stairwell, it seems, is a highway to heart health

New research finds that a few minutes of stair climbing at short intervals throughout the day can improve the ticker

Senior reporter

It just got harder to avoid exercise.
New research, published in the journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, suggests that virtually anyone can improve their fitness levels, anywhere, any time.
Researchers say short bouts of stair climbing throughout the day could improve cardiovascular health.
“The findings make it even easier for people to incorporate ‘exercise snacks’ into their day,” said researcher Professor Martin Gibala.
“Those who work in office towers or live in blocks of flats can vigorously climb a few flights of stairs in the morning, at lunch and in the evening, and know they are getting an effective workout,” he said.
Previous studies had shown that brief bouts of vigorous exercise, or sprint interval training (SIT), were effective when performed as a single session, with a few minutes of recovery between the intense bursts, requiring a total time commitment of 10 minutes or so.
For this study, researchers set out to determine if SIT exercise snacks, or vigorous bouts of stair-climbing performed as single sprints throughout the day, would be sufficient enough to improve cardio-respiratory fitness (CRF), an important health marker that is linked to longevity and cardiovascular disease risk.
One group of sedentary young adults vigorously climbed a three-flight stairwell, three times per day, separated by one to four hours of recovery.
They repeated the practice three times a week over six weeks.
The researchers compared the change in their fitness with a control group that did not exercise.
“We know that sprint interval training works, but we were a bit surprised to see that the stair snacking approach was also effective,” said Jonathan Little, another researcher.
“Vigorously climbing a few flights of stairs on your coffee or bathroom break during the day seems to be enough to boost fitness in people who are otherwise sedentary.”
In addition to being more fit, the stair climbers were also stronger compared with their sedentary counterparts at the end of the study, and generated more power during a maximal cycling test.
The short exercise routines are likely to benefit South Africans struggling with their weight.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation SA said, using the prevalence and obesity rates in SA as a proxy measure, with about 65% of women and 55% of men being overweight and obese, “one can safely assume that many adult South Africans are not physically active”.
The foundation’s Professor Pamela Naidoo said any form of physical activity would be beneficial to South Africans to improve their cardiovascular health.
“Climbing stairs is but one example, but yes, it’s very beneficial.”
Wellness and fitness expert Lisa Raleigh said South Africans who can’t get to the gym should not disregard the “incredible benefits of short bursts of activity throughout the day”.
“Passive exercise – where you’re not formally exercising but moving your body (such as walking from the parking lot to the shopping mall, climbing the stairs or an escalator, or playing in the park with your children) – helps to increase blood circulation and oxygen to the brain, while improving your muscle tone, flexibility and core strength.”
Raleigh said regular movement helped burn additional calories, even in short bouts.
“Stair climbing in particular is one of the best exercises you can do if you only have five to 10 minutes to move your body.
“It’s a compound movement, which means it activates and utilises all your major muscle groups such as your quads, glutes, core/abdominal muscles, calves and hamstrings.
“And, if you run or jog up the stairs, you’ll be using your arms too.
“Compound movements such as this also burn more fat and calories per minute because you have to work harder and use more muscles to stabilise yourself.
“Next time you’re facing a flight of stairs, test yourself and run up as fast as you can,” Raleigh suggested.

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