Stairway to Longevity

Taking the steps beats jogging, running for health

Take the stairs instead of the elevators — and you’ll dramatically lift your fitness levels.

Let’s face it, elevators are too often cramped, maddeningly slow, and crowded anyway. That’s especially true in hospitals.

I should know. I work in a hospital. But as a rule, I avoid elevators and escalators and take the stairs. As a result, I average 15 flights a day (or so the Health app on my iPhone tells me).

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Stair climbing is much better for us than jogging and it’s a super-boost to our standard walking regimen.

One motivator for me was a Swiss study in which 69 university employees were banned from using elevators for three months at work. At the outset, this group could be considered couch potatoes. They got less than two hours of exercise a week.

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During the course of the experiment, they nearly quadrupled their stair use — to an average of 23 flights climbed and descended a day.

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The result was a nearly 9 percent increase in their aerobic capacity, which translates into a 15 percent drop in their chance of premature death.

As the workers climbed up, their heart disease indicators crept down. Waist and fat mass shrunk nearly 2 percent; blood pressure dropped 2.3 percent; and LDL (bad) cholesterol decreased almost 4 percent.

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Impressive results, particularly as they were achieved so inexpensively. In fact, think of the energy savings if elevators went offline.

Walking, and stair climbing as a component, are accessible virtually everywhere, at office buildings, apartment buildings, homes, airports, and elsewhere. It costs nothing, and it spares the joints.

Kristy Kinnon of Oakley Fitness incorporates stair climbing into the personal-training sessions she provides to clients in San Francisco.

“Climbing stairs is considered a high-impact weight-bearing exercise that helps build bones and keep them strong,” Kinnon told LifeZette.

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In her opinion, stair climbing beats the alternatives.

“It’s such an intense form of exercise that it is more beneficial for your cardiovascular system, and burns more fat and builds more muscle, than walking or jogging,” she said.

It’s also a time-saver, because “you get as much benefit from a short stair-climb as you do from a much longer walk or jog.”

A certified trainer for 17 years, Kinnon has worked with many of the Bay Area’s movers and shakers — trying to get them moving and shaking. She also works with one of my most important patients, my wife, Melanie.

Though my wife and I both wear matching pedometers and compete with each other to get our 10,000 steps daily, stair climbing works specific muscles and so should be incorporated into any fitness regimen.

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“It also opens the hips, builds muscle in your quadriceps and gluts, and stretches your hamstrings,” Kinnon said.

“All of these are necessary for increased functional fitness and to increase your activities of daily living, such as independently stepping in and out of the shower.”

So forgo the elevator and escalator whenever you can — and get climbing.

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