How taking the stairs can help diagnose and prevent coronary artery disease.
Stair-running certainly isn’t new to exercise enthusiasts – remember Sylvester Stallone’s epic ascension in Rocky? It’s not unusual to see sprinters on the bleachers of local athletic fields or training on the steps at the Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla.
Now, two new research studies have found that a simple set of stairs can also be a powerful tool in both evaluation and prevention or reversal of coronary artery disease (CAD), the narrowing or blocking of arteries that supply blood to the heart. CAD is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.
Both papers center around cardiovascular fitness, also referred to as cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF). CRF is your body’s ability to take in oxygen and distribute to muscles and organs during exercise. “CRF is an excellent indicator of heart health,” notes heart physician Dr. Smriti Deshmukh, who is also the Hospital’s Director of Echocardiography.
Your resting heart rate can be another good indicator of cardiovascular health, Dr. Deshmukh adds. “If your resting heart rate is at the top end of the normal range, 60-100 bpm, you may be at increased risk of cardiovascular disease,” she says.
Climb the stairs to see if you need to see a doctor
If it takes you longer than one minute and 30 seconds to climb four flights of stairs (60 steps), it may be a good idea to check with your doctor about whether you may be at risk for coronary artery disease.
In a European Society of Cardiology study of 165 patients with symptoms of chest pain or shortness of breath during exertion, those who ascended the steps in less than 40-45 seconds used oxygen more effectively and burned more calories. It turns out that just 32% of the faster climbers had abnormal heart function, compared to 58% of the slower climbers – proving that this simple stair test is a quick and easy way to alert you to a potential problem and consult with your doctor. “I would just caution older individuals and those who live a sedentary lifestyle to check with their doctor before proceeding with such a rigorous at home test,” notes Dr. Deshmukh.
Climb the stairs to boost your heart health
According to the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, just 30 minutes of stair-climbing a week, broken up in 10-minute sessions three times a week, can greatly improve cardiorespiratory fitness.
Study volunteers vigorously climbed up and down one flight of stairs in 60-second segments at a time, three days a week over the course of a month-and-a-half – totaling nearly 20 sessions. Their results were compared to those who completed the same protocol on exercise bikes, which have already been proven to improve fitness. Both forms of exercise similarly boosted CRF. “Fancy exercise equipment is not needed to improve your cardiac health. In fact, with our busy lifestyles, all of us need to find ways to fit in activity,” says Dr. Deshmukh.
Her advice: embrace your stairs! Also, park farther away from the office or store, and walk instead of drive whenever possible – little steps that pay off big for your heart.