No Time for Exercise? Take the Stairs!

Everyone knows that exercise does the body good. But for many people, it’s hard to find the time. For others, exercise equipment and gym memberships may be too costly. Researchers are putting an end to these excuses. All the exercise equipment you need may be right in your home or office building. Instead of taking the elevator, just take the stairs!

How good of a workout do you really get from going up and down stairs? How many calories do you burn? These questions were of special interest to researchers in Singapore, where nearly 90 percent of the population lives in high-rise buildings.

The researchers monitored men and women going up and down the stairs of an 11-story building (180 steps). Participants were timed going up and down the stairs at a brisk, constant pace. Their heart rate and oxygen uptake were monitored to see how hard they were working. 

Results showed that stair-climbing meets the guidelines set by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) for exercise intensity. This was particularly true for going up stairs. The physical intensity while climbing rises for the first minute or two, then levels off. The intensity of going up stairs is similar to that of jogging (ten km/hour). Going down stairs, a milder intensity is set much earlier and is similar to brisk walking (four km/hour).

In general, the faster participants went up stairs, the more their breathing and heart rate increased. Exercise intensity varied somewhat based on gender and body mass. Men got up the stairs faster than women, but their heart rates didn’t go up as much. Heavier people breathed more rapidly during the climb.

What is the energy cost of going up and down stairs? In other words, how many calories do you burn? The researchers estimate that each step takes .16 calories. Going up 180 steps burns nearly 20 calories, and going down burns about nine calories. To meet the ACSM guidelines for weight loss and body fat reduction, you would need to go up and down these stairs seven times (25 minutes), four times a week.

Stair-climbing is a convenient way to exercise. In terms of heart rate and oxygen uptake, stair-climbing can be used to meet the minimum requirements for cardiorespiratory benefits.