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Climbing five flights of stairs a day substantially cuts risk of heart disease

[Sept. 29, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]

Taking a more spirited approach and walking briskly — defined as more than 40 steps per minute — brings even better results, dropping dementia risk by 57%. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

In today's world, where technological advancements often lead to sedentary lifestyles, health professionals and advocates have been pushing for people to walk a minimum of 10,000 steps daily to maintain cardiovascular health.

However, a groundbreaking study from Tulane University suggests that taking even 50 steps, specifically up a flight of stairs, might have a more profound impact on our heart health than previously believed.


Published in the prestigious medical journal Atherosclerosis, the study reveals a striking correlation between stair climbing and reduced risk of heart disease. It found that individuals who climbed more than five flights of stairs daily could reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by an impressive 20%.

The implications of this discovery are particularly noteworthy when one considers the rampant global prevalence of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD).


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Alongside coronary artery disease and stroke, ASCVD holds the unfortunate distinction of being one of the primary causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide.

Dr. Lu Qi, the HCA Regents Distinguished Chair and professor at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and co-corresponding author of the study, stated, “Short bursts of high-intensity stair climbing are a time-efficient way to improve cardiorespiratory fitness and lipid profile, especially among those unable to achieve the current physical activity recommendations.”


His remarks underscore the potential of stair climbing not just as an exercise but as a vital preventive measure against ASCVD for the broader population.

Graphical abstract. Climbing more than five flights of stairs (approx 50 steps) daily was associated with a lower risk of ASCVD types independent of disease susceptibility. (CREDIT: Atherosclerosis)

To arrive at these compelling findings, the study utilized a rich dataset from the UK Biobank, encompassing information from 450,000 adults. The researchers embarked on a meticulous journey, assessing participants’ susceptibility to cardiovascular disease based on a myriad of factors.


This encompassed family history, established risk markers, genetic risk elements, and a comprehensive survey detailing their lifestyle habits, including the frequency of their stair-climbing activities. With a median follow-up period of 12.5 years, this study stands out in its depth and longitudinal design.

Blood flowing down the left anterior descending (LAD) branch of the left coronary artery has been obstructed. Heart muscle beyond the blockage has died from prolonged ischemia (brown patch). (B) A cutaway diagram of the LAD shows plaque (yellow) that had gradually narrowed the arterial lumen. Later, a blood clot, broken loose from upstream plaque, has become wedged into the narrowed section of the LAD, completely obstructing blood flow. (CREDIT: NIH)

Interestingly, one of the study's revelations was that those who were less genetically predisposed to cardiovascular disease benefited most from regular stair climbing. However, for those who, based on genetics and other factors, were deemed more susceptible to heart ailments, daily stair climbing still held immense promise. Dr. Qi noted that the augmented risk of heart disease in this demographic could be “effectively offset” by integrating daily stair climbing into their routines.


For many, the most appealing aspect of this discovery might be the sheer accessibility of the proposed solution. Unlike specialized gym equipment or trendy fitness classes, stairs are ubiquitous in our urban landscapes. They present a low-cost, readily available avenue for people to incorporate meaningful physical activity into their daily lives without substantial changes to their routines.

Micrograph of the distal right coronary artery with complex atherosclerosis and luminal narrowing. (CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. Qi emphasized the innovative nature of the study's findings, remarking, “This study provides novel evidence for the protective effects of stair climbing on the risk of ASCVD, particularly for individuals with multiple ASCVD risk factors.” In an era where people are continuously seeking effective, convenient, and affordable ways to maintain their health, the humble staircase might just be the unexpected champion of cardiovascular well-being.


While the 10,000 steps paradigm has its merits, there's growing evidence to suggest that, for those aiming for optimal heart health, climbing stairs might be a step in the right direction. The next time you're faced with the choice between an escalator, an elevator, or a staircase, remember: those steps you take could very well be a stride towards a healthier heart.

For more science and technology stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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