A convenient and inexpensive test of your heart health is as near as your nearby tall building. Research teams from Spain claim that it is a reliable measure of good heart health to be able to ascend four flights of stairs in under a minute.
“The stairs test is an easy way to check your heart health; if it takes you more than one and a half minutes to ascend four flights of stairs, your health is suboptimal and it would be a good idea to consult a doctor,” said Dr. Jesús Peteiro – a cardiologist at University Hospital a Coruña and a study author.
The research reported at the recent European Society of Cardiology scientific meeting contrasted the findings of the stair-climbing test with those acquired from the laboratory exercise tests. The analysis has not yet been fact based in a scientific journal or released.
With their exercise ability assessed as metabolic equivalents, the 165 study participants each moved or ran on a treadmill till exhausted (METs). The research team ascended four flights of stairs (60 steps) at a fast yet non-running pace after a rest time, then had their METs checked again. More than 9 to 10 METs were reached by attendees who ascended the stairs in less than 40 to 45 seconds.
Previous research have revealed that reaching 10 METs is correlated with a low death level during an exercise test (1 percent or less per year, or 10 percent over a 10-year span).
Less than 8 METs were reached by participants who took 1.5 mins or longer to walk up the stairs, which corresponds to an estimated death rate of 2 to 4% per year, or 30% in 10 years.
During the heart health tests, heart activity imaging showed that throughout exercise, 58% of the volunteers who took more than 1.5 minutes to walk up the stairs had irregular heart function. That’s contrasted to 32% in less than a minute of those who ascended the stairs.
Is It Reliable?
Almost 1 in 3 study participants who ascended the stairs rapidly nevertheless showed irregular heart function – a potential indicator for coronary heart disease.
That aspect shows why the stair-climbing test should not be used as a replacement for more rigorous assessments, said Dr. Renee Bullock-Palmer, a cardiologist and director of the Women’s Heart Center and director of non-invasive cardiac imaging at the Deborah Heart and Lung Center in New Jersey.
“Based on the study, the ability to climb stairs can be used as a crude way to assess one’s physical function that may be predictive of overall heart health,” Bullock-Palmer unfolded.
“However, I believe that this crude self-assessment cannot take the place of a proper physical exam, and history by a physician, and a proper, appropriately indicated stress test,” she said. Dr. Nicole Harkin, originator of the online heart health practice Whole Heart Cardiology, affirmed.
“During a more typical stress test, sometimes we see evidence of heart problems (like changes in the EKG or the sonogram), even if a patient doesn’t have symptoms,” she told Healthline. “Other times we pick up other issues, like dangerous blood pressure changes or heart rhythm issues, that would be missed with this kind of test.”
The volunteers in the study held the symptoms of coronary artery disease, such as chest pain and tightness of breath during workout.
“The idea was to find a simple and inexpensive method of assessing heart health,” Peteiro told Healthline. “This can help physicians triage patients for more extensive examinations.”
In order to test heart health, specialists most often than not employ stair climbing, acknowledged Harkin.
“It’s an exercise that gets your heart rate up relatively quickly. Typically, if there’s an issue like a blocked heart artery, people tend to get symptoms (like chest pain or shortness of breath) at higher heart rates. We often use a person’s ability to climb a flight or two of stairs without issue as a sign that they should probably do OK during surgery,” she said.
Is It Applicable to Everyone?
Dr. Oyere K. Onuma, a Yale Medicine cardiologist and assistant medicine professor at Yale, unveiled that the stair-climbing test is helpful but has its pitfalls on the part of heart health check.
“The big advantage of this method is its ease. It can be done almost anywhere with very little requirement in terms of equipment or personnel. It is also much cheaper and faster to do than the traditional stress tests and can be repeated multiple times to track any progress or changes in functional ability,” Onuma said.
“However, the flip side of this is that the test is not standardized… the type of stairs, speed of climbing the stairs, timing of effort can differ,” she said. “This method also significantly limits the evaluation of patients with limited mobility and elderly patients, who may have more mechanical difficulty with climbing stairs.”
“As a physician, it’s important to evaluate each patient and assess his or her current capabilities and state of health,” said Dr. Jeremy Pollock, a cardiologist with the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center.
“As an example, a frail 80-year-old, mostly sedentary patient should never be asked to walk up a flight of stairs,” he said. “Being able to complete a short duration of strenuous exercise is a nice predictor that a patient is relatively low risk in the short term from a cardiovascular perspective.”
Luckily, stair climbing is not the only approach to carry out a cardiac self-assessment, Pollock stated.
“Factors such as whether or not they can walk two city blocks or carry grocery bags to their car, or numerous other regular activities of daily living, can be used as indicators of cardiovascular health,” Pollock said.
“Exercise ability is always a great indicator of overall heart health,” Harkin said. “If your ability to complete a moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise program ever changes, that’s a good sign something may be going on, and you should contact your doctor.”
“You can also monitor for things like heart rate recovery (how long it takes for your heart rate to decrease after intense exercise) as an indicator of how your heart is doing,” she added.
“Also, as wearables and health tech continue to improve and become more mainstream, we will increasingly be able to use data gathered at home, like heart rate variability, to inform us about our heart health,” Harkin said.
Dr. Deane Waldman, emeritus professor of pediatrics, pathology, and decision science, and former director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Health Policy, indicated that several older adults and individuals with diabetes have joint problems.
“Climbing stairs is hard on the knee joint,” he uncovered.
Those individuals may or may not be capable of performing the stress test for stair climbing. But as a sort of routine exercise, they should usually skip stair climbing, stated Waldman.
“The problem with using stairs for workouts is the descent,” said Paul Johnson, founder of Complete Tri, which provides training advice for fitness enthusiasts.
“Climbing downstairs puts significant force on the knees. Be sure that you walk down carefully, taking care of your joints, after going upstairs,” he said.