You don’t need fancy equipment or an hour at the gym for a heart-healthy workout. You might want to try a stair workout at home. Here's how.
Health experts consistently laud the benefits of regular exercise — which include preventing type 2 diabetes and hypertension, keeping weight in a healthy range, and lowering your risk of heart attack and stroke. But figuring out how to fit a workout into your busy day can make a trip to the gym or a run around the block seem almost impossible.
It turns out you don’t need much time for exercise to provide cardiovascular and other benefits. Researchers have found you can do sprint interval training — brief bursts of vigorous exercise separated by a few minutes of recovery — in 10 minutes using something you probably have access to at home or work. All you need is some stairs.
Previous studies have documented the health benefits of a stair workout at home, with participants climbing stairs vigorously for over 70 minutes a week. But Martin Gibala, PhD, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University, and colleagues wanted to see if much shorter periods of walking up and down stairs, using the principles of sprint interval training, would be also be effective in improving cardiovascular fitness.
Working with 31 sedentary but otherwise healthy women who volunteered for the study, Gibala and his team tested the effect of two different ways to use going up and down stairs as a time efficient, cardiovascular workout. Both varieties involved three sessions a week of exercising by going up and down stairs for just 10 minutes, including warming up, cooling down, and taking brief rest periods between vigorous stair climbing.
For the first phase of the study, the research participants climbed stairs for 20 seconds as fast as they could, then took brief breaks. For the next part of the study, they climbed up and down one flight of stairs for periods of 60 seconds, then briefly paused and repeated the stairs workout.
The results of the study found both styles of stair climbing exercise substantially increased the research participants’ cardiovascular fitness after six weeks — and the only time commitment was 30 minutes a week, total. The findings suggest sprint interval training can be easily adapted to work in home settings and effectively boost fitness when people have little time for other exercise.
"Interval training offers a convenient way to fit exercise into your life, rather than having to structure your life around exercise," said Gibala, who has studied high-intensity interval training for over 10 years and written a book about the benefits of this quick form of exercise, “The One Minute Workout.”
In another study, University of Georgia researchers found climbing up and down stairs for a few minutes has another benefit besides boosting fitness. It revs up energy in the middle of the day better than a dose of caffeine.
On separate days, research volunteers were given either capsules containing an inert placebo or doses of caffeine, or they spent about 10 minutes walking up and down stairs at a regular pace. The results showed walking — not caffeine — made the volunteers feel energized.
"We found, in both the caffeine and the placebo conditions, that there was not much change in how they felt," said Patrick J. O'Connor, PhD, a professor in the department of kinesiology who co-authored the study with former graduate student Derek Randolph. "But with exercise they did feel more energetic and vigorous.”
Try your own stair workout at home. Just 10 minutes a day can improve your heart health, tone your muscles, and lower your weight.
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August 25, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN