Taking the Stairs

Take the Stairs
Take the Stairs. Heinz-Linke/E+/Getty Images

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?

  • A 140-pound person will burn about 4 more calories per minute compared with standing and riding on an escalator or elevator.
  • 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!
  • The Fitbit fitness tracker and others count stairs 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 like to 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 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 at shopping malls. They found the best way to motivate people was to have messages on the stair risers. Interestingly, people who saw the stair riser signs were more likely to take the stairs down, or to take other stairs that didn't have signs.

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, Whitt MC, Irwin ML, Swartz AM, Strath SJ, O'Brien WL, Bassett DR Jr, Schmitz KH, Emplaincourt PO, Jacobs DR Jr, Leon AS. "Compendium of Physical Activities: An update of activity codes and MET intensities." Med Sci Sports Exerc 2000;32 (Suppl):S498-S516.

Webb OJ, Eves FF. "Effects of environmental changes in a stair climbing intervention: generalization to stair descent." Am J Health Promot. 2007 Sep-Oct;22(1):38-44.

Kerr J, Eves F, Carroll D. "Six-month observational study of prompted stair climbing." Prev Med. 2001 Nov;33(5):422-7.

Mansi, Ishak A. MD, FACP; Mansi, Nardine AIA; Shaker, Hayam MD; Banks, Daniel MD, MS, FACP. "Stair Design in the United States and Obesity: The Need for a Change." Southern Medical Journal, June 2009, 102:6.

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