How Quickly You Climb the Stairs Means Nothing of Your Heart Health, According to a Cardiologist

Photo: Getty/Konstantin Aksenov / EyeEm
When taking the stairs, you might fall into the camp of "let's get this done PDQ" or you might want to be diligent about your footing so that you don't trip and roll back down them only to have to do it all over again (I kid, but also: no thanks). It begs the question: Does it really matter for cardiovascular endurance whether you take them two-by-two or one-by-one? We asked a cardiologist to find out.

There are different benefits for your muscles, it turns out. When taking the stairs one by one, you're more likely to work on skills like agility and mobility; while when you take them two by two, you're working on stride and strength. Depending on the reason that you're working out, this can play a role in your training, but when it comes to your cardiovascular health—or for those of us who only take stairs as a matter of practicality—it really doesn't matter so much. "I'm not sure why [taking the stairs two at a time] would be a recommendation [for improving cardio health],” says board-certified cardiologist Sameer K. Mehta, MD, a cardiologist at Denver Heart and Director of Cardiology at Rose Medical Center.

There’s a bigger lesson in here, too. More is not always more, nor is it always better. “Actual studies looking at moderate-intensity exercise versus high-intensity exercise show similar cardiovascular benefits,” says Dr. Mehta. So if you’re bounding up the stairs in sets, hoping it works your heart a little more and benefit your endurance, this is your go-ahead to slow down, courtesy of the MD. Again, though, there are other reasons you might want to up the intensity—just not necessarily for your heart health.

The doc’s take? “My recommendations are dependent on the particular patient, rather than a global recommendation for all,” he says, noting that age, lifestyle, and pre-existing activity level are all important factors to consider. But taking it (relatively) easy is backed by the medical community. “To further clarify, there is an abundance of data showing that moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) at 150 minutes per week significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular events, such as stroke, myocardial infarction, and death,” says Dr. Mehta, “Therefore, this is what is supported by all our major societal guidelines.”

If you’re insistent on doubling up on the stairs, it can’t hurt, particularly if you’re short on time. In general, Dr. Mehta says, higher intensity—including HIIT training—“at a duration of at least 75 minutes per week is an alternative approach to reduce [heart attack, stroke, etc].”

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