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What does climbing the stairs tell about your heart health?

By Apollo 24/7 (8 January 2021)- 07 January 2021

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Can the time taken to climb stairs indicate the state of heart health? A new study says it can. Researchers at University Hospital A Coruña, one of the largest medical centers in Spain, say that climbing 60 steps in one minute is a sign of good heart health. Their study has found that the longer time taken to ascend stairs corresponds with a higher risk of cardiac problems later.
About the study
A study titled Time to step up 4 flights of stairs gives relevant information on exercise testing performance and results was presented at EACVI -- Best of Imaging 2020, an online cardiovascular imaging event organized by the European Society of Cardiology, on December 11, 2020.
The objective of the study was to analyze the relationship between a daily activity (i.e. climbing stairs) and the results gathered from exercise testing (on a treadmill) in a lab. Another major goal of the study was to assess heart health via a simple and economical method.
The study involved 165 participants who were suspected or known to have CAD (coronary artery disease). Some of the symptoms exhibited by the participants during exertion included shortness of breath and chest pain. As part of the study, participants were made to walk or run on a treadmill. The intensity of the activity was gradually increased until the participants were exhausted. To measure the exercise capacity of the participants, metabolic equivalents or METs (ratio of working metabolic rate relative to resting metabolic rate) was used. Metabolic rate is the rate at which an individual expends energy per unit-time.
During the treadmill activity, the images of the participants’ hearts were taken to evaluate their heart function during the exercise. After a brief period of rest lasting 15 to 20 minutes, the participants were made to climb 60 stairs (i.e. four flights of stairs) at a fast pace without stopping. However, the participants were instructed not to run. The time of activity was recorded.
The researchers examined the relationship between the time taken to climb 60 stairs and the METs attained during the treadmill exercise testing in the laboratory.
Findings of the study
The study made the following revelations:
  • Participants who took 40 to 45 seconds to climb the stairs obtained over 9 to 10 metabolic equivalents (METs). According to earlier studies, people who achieve 10 METs during the physical activity test have a low mortality rate (i.e equal to or less than 1% per year).
  • Participants who climbed the stairs in 90 seconds or more garnered less than 8 METs. According to researchers, this can be expressed as a mortality rate of 2% to 4% per year.
  • 58% of the participants who climbed the stairs in over 90 seconds had abnormal heart function during the treadmill test.
  • Only 32% of the participants who took 60 seconds or less to climb the stairs had abnormal heart function during the treadmill test.
According to Dr. Peteiro, the association between the time taken to climb stairs and exercise capacity would be comparable in the healthy population. However, the imaging of the heart function and mortality rates would be beneficial for people who have CAD or are at risk of developing the condition.
Effective and proven ways to improve heart health
Irrespective of the study outcomes, it is important for everybody to take extra care of their heart health. The entire human body depends on the circulation of blood. Without optimal heart health, there will be poor circulation of blood and the whole body will likely suffer adverse consequences.
There are a number of effective and proven ways of improving heart function. These include:
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Engage in regular physical activity (aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity or exercise per day)
  • Drink plenty of water and other hydrating fluids
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet
  • Avoid high calorie and processed foods
  • Avoid intake of sweetened or sugary beverages
  • Reduce the intake of salt
  • Significantly cut down the intake of alcoholic beverages
  • Quit smoking
  • Manage stress and get enough sleep
  • Adhere to medication routines
Conclusion
It is possible to improve heart health by following the lifestyle and dietary changes discussed in this article. For matters related to the heart, it is also advisable to get regular check-ups done to keep it in good shape. People who are at risk and get exhausted after climbing a few flights of stairs may do well to consult a doctor to rule out potential early warning signs.
Consult a qualified and experienced cardiologist to know more about how to improve heart health.
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