Taking the Stairs to Burn Calories and Boost Your Health

Don't Skip the Steps

Take the Stairs
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How much does it help to take the stairs rather than ride the escalator or elevator? Can a few more flights of stairs each day make a difference for fitness and obesity? Here are some facts on how many calories a 160-pound person burns taking the stairs:

  • 2 calories for one flight of 12 steps, about 0.17 calories per step climbed.
  • 5 calories per minute walking slowly upstairs. These are calories they wouldn't burn standing on an escalator or taking an elevator.
  • 11 calories per minute climbing stairs at a fast speed.
  • 11 calories per minute on a stairclimber or stair-treadmill
  • 19 calories per minute running up stairs.
  • 4 calories per minute walking down stairs, about the same as walking on flat ground.
  • 1.6 calories per minute standing on an escalator or in an elevator, one-third of the calories expended by taking the stairs at a slow pace.
  • Over the course of a year, you might lose over half a pound if your only lifestyle change was taking the stairs for a minute a day.

Stair climbing challenges more muscles than walking on level ground or standing. You use your gluteus maximus and hamstrings to climb stairs. These muscles extend the hip. To tone your butt, take the stairs. Some fitness trackers count stairs or floors climbed and will reward you with badges and trophies for stair climbing.

Stair climbing is a good activity to build into your day. One of the "small steps" recommended at HealthierUS.gov is to take the stairs.

Eliminating Stairs from Homes Has Drawbacks

With an aging population, single-story homes and homes with the master bedroom on the main level are becoming more desirable. People want to eliminate stairs from their lives. If you have knee or hip osteoarthritis, you probably avoid stairs.

Unless you have existing joint problems, it is good to challenge your muscles and joints each day.

Living in a two-story house as a built-in fitness program. A task such as carrying groceries up a flight of stairs burns more than twice the calories as carrying them on level ground. But if you have any joint problems you may want to avoid carrying loads up and down stairs. It's great to have the laundry room on the same level as the bedrooms, and the kitchen on the same level as the entry. You can still get the benefit of stairs when you aren't carrying extra weight up and down.

What Will Make You Take the Stairs?

Several studies have looked at the best way to encourage people to take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator at shopping malls and in workplaces. Messages on the stair risers were one tactic found to be effective. In general, having the message at the point where people would make the decision to take the stairs vs. elevator or escalator is effective.

Making Stairs Friendly

Stairs need to be conveniently located, not hidden away and poorly marked. Do they feel like a lonely, scary place, or a safe, well-lit, frequently-used environment? Architects, designers and building management all have a role in making stairwells more walker-friendly in office buildings, schools, hospitals and government buildings.

This is the consideration of active design. Once in the stairwell, it may be poorly cleaned, with little climate control, and undecorated. It's no wonder people just wait for the elevator.

Small Steps Add Up

Taking the stairs is just one small step. You need to add other small changes to be more active and eat a better diet in order to stay fit and healthy. The biggest step can be achieving the recommended exercise levels for healthy persons—30 minutes a day of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, five days a week, plus strength exercise two days a week

Adding Stairs for Intervals to Your Walking Workouts

Adding stairs to your walking workout is a great way to add intervals of more-intense exercise.

Stair climbing will raise your heart rate and will tone your butt and the backs of your thighs. These are good additions to a workout.

Sources:

Ainsworth BE, Haskell WL, Herrmann SD, et al. 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011;43(8):1575-1581. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e31821ece12.

Bellicha A, Kieusseian A, Tataranni A, Charreire H, Oppert JM. Stair-use Interventions in Worksites and Public Settings - a Systematic Review of Effectiveness and External ValidityPreventative Medicine. 2015 Jan;70:3-13. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.11.001.

Mansi IA, Mansi N, Shaker H, Banks D. "Stair Design in the United States and Obesity: The Need for a Change." Southern Medical Journal, June 2009, 102:6.

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