A few minutes of stairs climbing, at short intervals throughout the day, can improve cardiovascular health. These are the findings of a new research from kinesiologists at McMaster University and UBC Okanagan.
The findings, published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, suggest that virtually anyone can improve their fitness, anywhere, any time.
“The findings make it even easier for people to incorporate ‘exercise snacks’ into their day,” says Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster and senior author on the study.
“Those who work in office towers or live in apartment buildings can vigorously climb a few flights of stairs in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening and know they are getting an effective workout,” he added.
Previous studies had shown that brief bouts of vigorous exercise, or sprint interval training (SIT), are effective when performed as a single session, with a few minutes of recovery between the intense bursts, requiring a total time commitment of 10 minutes or so.
For this study, researchers set out to determine if SIT exercise snacks or vigorous bouts of stair climbing performed as single sprints spread throughout the day would be sufficient enough to improve cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF). CRF is an important healthy marker that is linked to longevity and cardiovascular disease risk. People also climb stairs to loose weight. Climbing stairs is a great form of cardio exercise.
One group of sedentary young adults vigorously climbed a three-flight stairwell, three times per day, separated by one to four hours of recovery. They repeated the protocol three times each week over the course of six weeks. The researchers compared the change in their fitness to a control group which did not exercise.
“We know that sprint interval training works, but we were a bit surprised to see that the stair snacking approach was also effective,” says Jonathan Little, assistant professor at UBC’s Okanagan campus and study co-author. “Vigorously climbing a few flights of stairs on your coffee or bathroom break during the day seems to be enough to boost fitness in people who are otherwise sedentary.”
In addition to being more fit, the stair climbers were also stronger compared to their sedentary counterparts at the end of the study, and generated more power during a maximal cycling test. The number of calories burned by climbing stairs depends on how long it takes, the intensity of the activity and your weight.
In future, researchers hope to investigate different exercise snacking protocols with varying recovery times, and the effect on other health-related indicators such as blood pressure and glycaemic control.
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