Lately the most common question I get from over-weight or too-sedentary individuals, especially seniors, is how they can get a quick fix, short-cut, easy way to burn fat, increase their metabolism, improve their circulation, and strengthen their heart and lungs, all in one low-impact quick exercise. Keep in mind these individuals are usually not prone to enjoying any exercise, and their lack of physical endurance and flexibility makes many basic exercises (like even walking) a chore that they quickly give up on. So for you I offer up my quick, easy and cheap fitness trick: The Stairs!
Climbing stairs strengthens your lungs and heart which let you take in more oxygen, which is key to circulation and muscle stimulation and growth, which in turn burns more calories. When you walk up stairs, your body’s response is to release endorphins to handle the “strain.” Endorphins are natural mood lifters and anti-inflamatories. Stress is reduced, focus is improved, and your immune system is enhanced.
A study in European Heart Journal followed 69 hospital employees who used stairs instead of the elevator for about three months. Some of the results for the stair-climbing employees were:
- Body fat dropped 1.7%
- Blood pressure fell 2.3%
- LDL (or bad) cholesterol fell 3.9%
- Lung capacity went up 8.6%
Now before you say that you I can barely walk, there’s no way I can handle stairs take a deep breath and consider this, to get any real fitness benefit from walking you have to achieve a certain speed or length, all the while having nothing to hold on to — daunting for many. With stairs, however, you can get maximum body benefit with as little as one flight. You don’t even have to spend 20 minutes walking a stair climber at the gym, or handle five flights of stairs at the office. What you will need to do is incorporate steps whenever and where ever you can as much or as little as you can – with the commitment to do so regularly and always push yourself just a little so that you never plateau.
Here are some practical examples of using stairs to better your body:
Say you have a flight of stairs in your two-story house. You probably always walk up and down them several times a day. Next time you are taking the stairs to go to another room, stop and repeat the up and down (or down and up) 1-2 extra times, then continue on your way. Doing this 3-4 times a day is a simple way of increasing your fitness. Once that becomes easier, increase your speed a touch or add an additional up/down set.
Extra-credit: Sometimes when I walk past my stairs (not intending to use them), I just throw in a quick up and down (or down and up) then continue on my way. Try it!
For those of you in a high-rise building (or at least more than three stories), you probably have access to the fire-stairwell. Even if you’re up too many flights to use the stairs to go to and from – take 2 breaks (one a.m. one p.m.) and walk up and down just 2-3 flights of stairs. Throw in an extra set on your lunch break. Once that is no longer difficult on your system, increase speed or add a set.
Maybe there’s a stair climber at the gym, but since you only attend classes or perform a quick resistance training circuit you’ve never used it. Well, try adding 3 minutes of stairs climbing to your workouts, 3 times a week. When that become easier, add a few more minutes or increase your speed. An extra 5 minutes to your hectic schedule won’t kill you, and in fact it’ll do just the opposite!
If you have problematic knees, keep in mind that walking down stairs is harder on the knees than up. Take them sideways (walk turned to the side) on the down, and the pressure is transferred off the patella (knee cap).
Speed is not essential – however, if you always stop just when your heart rate and breathing seem a little strained, you’ll never improve your cardiovascular condition. Take it slow but stay steady and always push yourself just a touch further.
Seniors: if balance or falling is your concern, there’s no reason why you cannot hold on to the railing (especially on the walking downstairs angle). As long as you continue climbing you will still get the benefit. Just don’t pull yourself along, use the railing for stability but whenever you feel confident (especially on the upstairs), walk without holding on.
So give it a try, before you know it you stairs will be a part of your daily life that you will enjoy. Feel free to write me back and tell me your experiences. Now I’m off to run up and down my stairs!
Kids: They will do what you do. Teach your children to take the stairs whenever possible. We must not forget the terrifying rise of childhood obesity in America and this is just one more way to make fitness an automatic aspect of their lives.