Stair climbing is a unique form of exercise that can have a powerful and positive impact on your health over time.
While most of us think of exercise as 'sport', the scientific evidence shows it is everyday activities like walking and stair climbing that are most closely associated with improved health.
Stair climbing is recommended by doctors and health authorities worldwide because high quality studies show:
- Climbing just eight flights of stairs a day lowers average early mortality risk by 33%
- Seven minutes stair climbing a day can halve the risk of heart attack over 10 years
- Just two minutes extra stair climbing a day is enough to stop average middle age weight gain
Stair climbing delivers these benefits by improving our cardiovascular fitness. It's officially classed as a 'vigorous' form exercise and burns more calories per minute than jogging.
Heart, mind, muscles & bones
By raising our heart rate, stair climbing helps protect against high blood pressure, weight gain and clogged arteries. This lowers the risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, vascular dementia and even some cancers.
Stair climbing also exercises our bones and muscles, improving strength, bone density and muscle tone. This is especially important for women in sedentary office jobs as they have a significantly higher osteoporosis risk than men.
Incidental physical activities like stair climbing are also associated with improved mental health. They cause our bodies to release endorphins, the so-called feel good hormones. They also provide time think and reflect - key factors in managing everyday stress and tensions.
Easy to build into your life
The health benefits of stair climbing are only part of the story.
Equally important is the fact that stair climbing is easy to build into your life and make a habit of. This is vital because it is really only exercise routines we sustain over time that make a significant difference to our long term wellbeing.
The reason why stair climbing is so easy to adopt as a daily habit is that it fits in with modern urban life, over 90% of which is spent indoors. Reasons for its growing popularity include:
- It does not require any special skills, training or sporting prowess
- It’s extremely time efficient, saving us time rather than eating into it
- It makes use of the world around us and does not cost anything
- You can start with just a few flights and build up over time
- No need to get dressed up in Lycra or perform in front of others
Stair climbing is now so popular that more than 10,000 stairways have now been rated for calorie burn worldwide. Why not use our interactive map to see if you can find rated stairs near you?
Stair climbing versus walking
Perhaps the best way to think of stair climbing is as a more powerful form of walking. Both are good for you but because stair climbing requires you to pull your weight against gravity, it requires more effort and its health benefits accrue more rapidly.
Even when climbing stairs at a normal pace, you will burn two to three times more energy than walking on the flat at a brisk pace. This extra benefit is reflected in health outcomes.
The Harvard Alumni Study, one of the biggest scientific studies to date, found that men who climbed an average of eight or more flights of stairs a day had a 33% lower mortality rate than men who were sedentary. That’s considerably better than the 22% lower death rate observed in men who walked 1.3 miles a day.
Small steps add up to big gains
Of course climbing a single set of stairs is not going to get you fit overnight. But because stair climbing is such a powerful exercise, most people start to feel stronger within a week and over a prolonged period those small everyday steps add up to big gains.
For example, a 45 year old woman, weighing 75 kg, who uses the stairs in the underground and then the stairs to her fifth floor office and back just twice a day will burn over 17,000 additional calories a year, equivalent to more than eight days' food.
It is statistics like this that explain why doctors, sports coaches and even modelling agencies recommend stair climbing. As Dr Harvey Simon, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, puts it: "Walking up stairs is one of the best-kept secrets in preventive medicine".
How to promote stair climbing
Promoting stair climbing is easy, effective and costs very little.
Visual stair prompts of the type StepJockey provide work and are recommended by major health institutions including the US Centers for Disease Control and the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Read more about the power of stair prompts and their evidence base.
StepJockey has also found that by turning stair climbing into a game or challenge, people can be incentivised to a far greater extent to ditch the lift and use the stairs. Our findings are that 'gamification' leads to a massive 500-800% increase in stair use over baseline levels.
Using this website you can rate your stairs for calorie burn and download free StepJockey Smart Signs. This is designed for individuals and non-profits.
A trusted evidence base
StepJockey is committed to providing objective and trustworthy information on stair climbing, calorie burn and physical activity.
StepJockey was seed-funded by the UK Department of Health and we take an 'evidence-based' approach to our business. In other words, we strive to ensure all our products and the claims we make for them are based on the best available scientific knowledge and data sources.
If you have further information you think should be included on this page or think we have got something wrong please don't hesitate to get in touch with the StepJockey team.
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Our free smartphone app lets you track your stair climbs and record how many calories you've burnt.Download the app