It’s been said that the best way to keep fit is to live in a four-storey house and have a bad memory! There’s no doubt that stepping – whether it’s in step aerobic classes or climbing and down stairs is a highly effective way of getting in shape.It’s good for the heart and lungs; it’s an excellent way to tone up your hips and thighs and a fantastic calorie burner.
Climb the Empire State Building on a Bus
Ever since Professor Morris showed in the 1950s that London bus drivers were twice as likely to suffer a heart attack when compared to the bus conductors, who climbed the equivalent of the Empire State Building each day going up and down the stairs on the double decker buses, exercise scientists have promoted stepping and stair climbing as effective ways to keep fit and healthy.
When a group of 22, sedentary 20-30 yr old women recently volunteered for a 7-week stair climbing research project at the University of Ulster they showed remarkable improvements in a range of health-related fitness measures. The women were asked to use a 7-storey public access staircase and during the working week progressed from 1 ascent per day (taking around 2 minutes) in Week One to 6 ascents per day by Week Seven.
As you can imagine, at the beginning of the project even the thought of climbing to the top of a 7-storey building left many of them feeling breathless! After staggering up the staircase for the first time, legs wobbled, hearts pumped furiously, and massive amounts of air were gulped. But day-by-day the women improved and by the end of the project all were comfortably able to climb to the top of the building – not just once, but six times a day!
What’s more, they did so with a heart rate that was ten beats lower than the first week; they were far less breathless, and their legs didn’t ache so much. Also, their total blood cholesterol was lower, their HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol) was significantly higher, and their muscles produced far less lactic acid. All these health benefits accrued from 12 minutes of exercise a day (6 separate bouts each of 2 minutes, spread throughout the working day), without getting changed into workout gear or requiring a shower! Great news for busy people who want to know not how much, but how little they need to do to get in shape.
Other countries have also recognised the health benefits to be gained from this convenient and lost-cost physical activity. For example, the government in Singapore has recently launched a campaign to encourage stair-climbing in order to improve the health-fitness of its citizens and help reduce the worrying increase in cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes.
Their hot and humid climate is not particularly conducive to outdoor fitness activities, and since 85% of the population live in high-rise buildings, stair-climbing is a very appropriate activity to recommend. The scientists have also come up with a fitness test that involves checking the pulse rate after climbing 11 floors. In this way, people are encouraged to check their fitness levels monthly to monitor progress.
Similarly, in Hong Kong, the climate and the atmospheric pollution makes regular outdoor exercise much harder and as the majority of people live in high-rise flats, stair climbing is also now recommended as a great way to keep fit. In fact, one recent survey of 18-65 yr olds, reported in the South China Morning Post under the headline ‘Swap Kilos for Dollars’ showed that in the previous month:
75% of physically active people (who reported frequently using stairs) did not visit their doctor, compared to 63% of those who were inactive.
Physically active people spent less on medical treatment (average £20 per month) than physically inactive (average £30 per month).
Most discrepancies was 30-40yr old women where those physically active spent only £12 per month on medical treatment compared to inactive women who spent £36 (no time to exercise due to the pressure of work, mortgage & family were main reasons given).
10% physically active took sick leave in the preceding month, compared with 20% of those who were inactive.
Since there are 4 million people in Hong Kong between 18-65yrs, the leader article calculated a potential saving of £40million a month in health care costs if people exercised more regularly!
Look around for easily available flights of stairs – at home, at work, in the towns and cities – and use them daily as ways of getting in shape.
Rather than climb and down a flight of stairs, you may prefer to use the bottom stair and step on and off in a steady rhythmic fashion. Start with a couple of minutes each day, then slowly build up the duration as you get fitter. You might even select a favourite CD track and step in time to the music beat.
Please remember that stair-climbing can be a very strenuous activity, particularly if you are out of shape. So, if you are worried about any aspect of your health then check this out first with your family doctor.
Taking steps to improve your health-related fitness may be easier than you think!
Thanks to Kevin Sykes for the great insight into taking steps to improve health. If you want to read more of Kevin’s work, his new book is available on Amazon Exercise and Health: A Laypersons Guide