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Jockology: taking the stairs actually makes a difference

April 15th, 2010

This weekend, about 7,000 people will tackle the 1,776 steps of the CN Tower in support of the World Wildlife Fund. Meanwhile, in Calgary, people will be climbing the Calgary Tower in support of the Alberta Wilderness Association. Also this weekend in Germany, there’s the Mt. Everest Stair Marathon, in which competitors go up and down a 397-step staircase 100 times, climbing the equivalent of sea level to the top of Everest and covering the distance of two marathons along the way.

Seriously.

So, all in all, it seemed like a good time to take a look at research into the health benefits of stair climbing for this week’s Jockology column. If you choose the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator a few times a day, does it really make any difference to your health?

Researchers in Ireland have been studying the benefits of dashing up the stairs periodically over the course of a workday, and they’ve observed surprising fitness gains.

“I think the key thing here,” says Colin Boreham, a professor at the University College Dublin Institute for Sport and Health, “is that stair-climbing is one of the few everyday activities at a moderate to high intensity that one can do surreptitiously without having to change, use special equipment or look foolish.” [read the rest of the column...]

As an aside, that’s the Colin Boreham who once held the British high-jump record and represented Britain in the 1984 Olympics as a decathlete alongside Daley Thompson.

  1. Eric Teske
    April 15th, 2010 at 14:16 | #1

    I love it! We only have one small set of stairs at work between the retail floor and warehouse, but I bound up and down those at least 20 times a day.

  2. Alexis Beauchamp
    April 29th, 2010 at 15:39 | #2

    It confirms why I convince myself, even on bad days, to take the stairs for 14 flights…

    I was wondering though what the ratio is between climbing stairs and using them to go down… is climbing 3-5-10 times more demanding?

  3. alex
    April 30th, 2010 at 05:37 | #3

    Thanks for the comment, Alexis — 14 flights is pretty impressive!

    Here’s the best data I was able to find in a quick search, from the American College of Sports Medicine’s Compendium of Physical Activities:
    running up stairs: 15.0 MET
    walking down stairs: 3.0 MET
    walking up stairs while carrying a 1-15 lb load: 9.0 MET

    (1 MET is the amoung of energy you burn from just lying on the sofa.)

    So that doesn’t really give you a direct comparison, but it gives you a rough idea. My sense is that, when you’re going downstairs, it’s no longer really a cardiovascular effort: it’s difficult because you have to use your leg muscles, but it doesn’t require much aerobic effort.

  4. Alexis Beauchamp
    July 14th, 2010 at 20:31 | #4

    Great, thanks for the feedback!

    Sorry for the delay, we had our second boy in between my two comments:)

    Great blog, keep it up.

  1. December 17th, 2011 at 16:47 | #1