5 Reasons Stair Climbing is Good For You – Part One

I wanted to rerun this item on stair-climbing as a superb alternative to trying to exercise in the sub-zero weather which we have been experiencing in much of the country.

Regular readers know that I have been an avid bicycle rider for years. I logged over 7000 miles in the year just ended. And, I have not stopped riding. I have, however, begun a new exercise, for me – climbing stairs.


Although this person is walking down the stairs, I don’t recommend it. You can develop knee problems among others.

How come? Well, the only drawback to cycling I know of is that it is not weight-bearing. So, while the aerobic activity benefits my cardiovascular system greatly, I get no benefits for my skeletal system. I need both and I just can’t get into weight workouts.

An additional benefit of  stair climbing over bike riding is that you can do it indoors so the weather conditions do not present a problem. Having just suffered through historic cold weather with much of the country, this is particularly relevant now. While current temps here in Chicago range in the mid 30’s, there is still a lot of snow, ice and slush around that makes for dangerous biking conditions.

So, what about climbing stairs? It burns more calories than running and doesn’t beat up your legs as much as running does. RunSociety says, “When you stair climb for exercise, you burn twice the fat in half the time than if you run and three times more than walking. An intense stair-climbing exercise session will produce more aerobic benefits in a shorter amount of time than running or walking. One hour of stair climbing will burn approximately 1000 calories.”

Nonetheless, you can climb at your own pace and still get a good workout.

A New York Times article by Dr. Harvey Simon on the heath sciences technology faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founding editor of the Harvard Men’s Health Watch, wrote, “What’s so special about climbing stairs? Researchers in Canada answered the question by monitoring 17 healthy male volunteers with an average age of 64 while they walked on the level, lifted weights or climbed stairs. Stair climbing was the most demanding. It was twice as taxing as brisk walking on the level and 50 percent harder than walking up a steep incline or lifting weights. And peak exertion was attained much faster climbing stairs than walking, which is why nearly everyone huffs and puffs going up stairs, at least until their “second wind” kicks in after a few flights.”

One of the things I love about riding my bike is being outside and enjoying the fresh air and experiencing nature. In good weather, I plan to go for walks and find stairs to climb in the fresh air, too, when the good weather returns.

Dr. Simon cited, “The Harvard Alumni Study found that men who average at least eight flights a day enjoy a 33 percent lower mortality rate than men who are sedentary — and that’s even better than the 22 percent lower death rate men earned by walking 1.3 miles a day.”

Although I often ride long distances on my bike, I rarely go very far from my home. I ride in circuits of a couple of miles and just do them over and over. I have begun doing the same thing with the stairs. Instead of going up or down for a while and then turning around, I decided to start with five flights up, then come back down, then repeat it. This way I am always in control of the exercise and if I find my muscles stressed, I am never far from my starting point.

One caveat I have learned is that while walking down stairs is significantly easier than climbing, and it uses different muscles, it can be very hard and actually damaging to your knees, ankles or hips. So, if you have problems with any of those joints, you can walk up and then take the elevator back down.

An example of the load stair climbing puts on your cardiovascular system is evident from my heart rates. Normally, I have a resting heart rate just below 50 beats per minute (bpm). I wore a monitor when I did the stairs for the first time. After walking up five flights at a normal pace, my heart rate rose to just over 100 bpm. Then I walked back down the five flights and checked my pulse again. It had gone down to around 60 bpm. So, a mere five flights up was enough to challenge my heart rate. On the other hand, my heart rate recovered well on the walk down. I am looking forward to seeing the results of stair climbing over the next few months.

Finally, I have read elsewhere on the web that people who climbed stairs regularly for exercise lost pounds and inches from their waistlines and increased their HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) readings while decreasing their LDL (bad cholesterol) readings. These are real tangible benefits.

For more on this important topic, check out: Stair climbing is good for you – Part Two – ACSM which includes insights from the American College of Sports Medicine.

I would be love to hear from readers who may have also tried stair-climbing.



Filed under aerobics, biking, Harvard, HDL Cholesterol, LDL Cholesterol, men's health, stair climbing, Weight, weight-bearing exercise

8 responses to “5 Reasons Stair Climbing is Good For You – Part One

  1. Nancy Chornick

    My friend and I started climbing stairs seriously about three weeks ago. Previously, we climbed the stairs periodically but not on a regular basis. We live in a 54 floor high rise and are now climbing the stairs 6 times a week. Initially we did three floors and then walked around the hallway until our heart rates had lowered and breathing was comfortable; and then continued with another 3 floors. We have gradually increased the number of floors we do to five and then we do a larger number of floors at the end, around 14 to 17 floors. We always use a heart monitor to determine if it is time for ‘ walk around’ Even though we are increasing the number of floors we are doing at one time, my heart average rate has been decreasing and the recovery rate improving indicating to me that my heart function is improving. Having a friend to climb the stairs has been invaluable. There have been days that I didn’t particularly want to climb the stairs but I knew that someone was waiting for me.
    Regarding going down the stairs, we started slowly going down a few floors and then walking around the hallway. We have been gradually increasing the number of floors we go down before we do “a walk around” without any problems. I found that I do need to walk down the same number of stairs I go up to use the complementary muscles of those used to climb stairs. The one time I didn’t go down the stairs after one of our climbs, my legs were sore for days.
    Climbing stairs has been a wonderful experience for me. I feel stronger and my resting heart rate has been steadily going down. I haven’t lost any weight but my muscle mass has increased and body fat has gone down.

    Liked by 2 people

    • HI, Nancy!

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful and detailed comment. Interesting observation about the going down stairs and complementary muscles. I plan to check further on this down vs up aspect of stair climbing. I spoke to a friend who is a physical trainer and she said not to walk down stairs because it is too hard on the knees. She has a titanium knee so she may be prejudiced.

      I hope other readers will be encouraged to share their experiences, too.



  2. Mary Maxville

    I started climbing 4 flights of stair around the middle of July with coworkers, and increased to 13 flights the month of August. I have lost 42 pounds and feel great, It is almost scare y for me, due to I have never been this consistent with any exercise until now. I am 62 years old and feel great!

    Mary M.
    Tulsa Oklahoma

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Stair climbing offers significant cardiovascular and muscular benefits for heart patients | One Regular Guy Writing about Food, Exercise and Living Past 100

  4. I exercise very early in the morning. I’m trying to think of a building that would be open then.

    What do you think of those stair climbing machines in the gym. The gym I belong to is open 24 hours.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s