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“What do you think we should still be able to do physically, up until the week that we die?”

The first post in a series to respond to that question was mobility-dominant: the dowel overhead squat.

Next, let’s talk truly functional strength and cardiovascular health. As Po says in Kung Fu Panda 2: “My old enemy…stairs!”

 

“Convince me,” you may say.

We’ll Live Longer…

One study followed over 4,000 men for well over a decade.

Even after adjusting for age, walking, sports/recreation, body mass index, alcohol intake, and smoking, diagnoses of hypertension or diabetes or high cholesterol, “number of stairs habitually climbed was inversely associated with all-cause mortality. (…) In this cohort of older men, stair climbing was associated with a lower risk of mortality from any causes.”

Short version? Climb the stairs more often to live longer.

…and Keep Our Minds Sharper

A different study used MRIs to examine the brains of healthy adults from age 19 to 79. They found that brain age decreases by 0.58 years for every daily flight of stairs climbed (defined as the stairs between two consecutive floors in a building).

 

Never Too Late to Start

It seems pretty obvious that climbing stairs will give you stronger legs, right? But a new study demonstrates that it also reduced arterial stiffness in postmenopausal women with stage 2 hypertension. For the record, the women trained four days a week, climbing 192 steps two to five times a day.

Breaking Down the Barriers

As the study authors noted, barriers to exercise might include lack of time, money, nearby fitness facilities, poor weather, and a sense of embarrassment. Stair climbing, in contrast, can be done without having to leave the house or pay a fee. Plus, it offers the additional benefits of fat loss, improved lipid profiles, and reduced risk of osteoporosis.

Yes, You’ve Got the Time for This

Investigators at McMaster University found that even just 30 minutes a week of stair climbing increased cardiorespiratory fitness, an important healthy marker that is linked to longevity.

 

What Goes Up…

Climbing up works differently for the body than coming back down, due to the eccentric muscle action of descending.

It can be tricky on the knees for some. Anyone with balance concerns will want to ensure that hand rails are sturdy and well-placed.

The calves can also have their own special kind of sore about two days afterwards an overly enthusiastic day. That’s also usually more about the descent than the actual climb.

One option is climbing up, and using modern mechanics to come back down. (Hello, Grouse Grind gondola!)

If you are lucky enough to have stairs right next to a hill, and footing seems safe, you could consider walking down the hill backwards. It does look a little goofy, but I actually do this on my own hill repeats to help prevent my calves tightening up so I can maintain my dorsiflexion for squat depth.

Safety First

As with any cardio, and especially if you do have advanced hypertension, the warmup, exercise dose, and cooldown matter. Plan your stair climbs under supervision, and contact me if you need more input.