No excuses for skipping the gym: Researchers find that climbing the stairs a few times each day improves cardiorespiratory fitness.

HAMILTON, Ontario — Before you groan the next time you have to walk up a flight of stairs, consider the health benefits. In fact, consider climbing them more frequently throughout the day as a means of physical fitness. A study by Canadian researchers found that climbing stairs at short intervals throughout the day can improve cardiovascular health and may even add years to your life.

For those struggling to keep up with New Year’s resolutions or for others who simply say they have no time to get to the gym, the authors agree that the “snacking” equivalent of exercise proves many people can improve their health anywhere, any time.

“The findings make it even easier for people to incorporate ‘exercise snacks’ into their day,” says senior author Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University, in a statement. “Those who work in office towers or live in apartment buildings can vigorously climb a few flights of stairs in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening and know they are getting an effective workout.”

Previous research has shown that short stints of vigorous exercise, called sprint interval training (SIT), can be effective when done as a single session with a few minutes of recovery between each intense burst of exercise, only requiring about 10 minutes of exercise total.

For Gibala’s study, the team analyzed whether short bouts of stair climbing done at different intervals throughout the day did enough to improve cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), a marker linked to longevity and risk for heart disease. They tested one group of sedentary young adults by asking them to climb a three-flight stairwell three times per day, separated by one to four hours of recovery, over a six-week period. The research team then compared their CRF levels to a control group, which didn’t exercise.

They found the stair climbers were more fit and stronger compared to the control group at the end of the study. The stair climbers also generated more power in a cycling test.

“We know that sprint interval training works, but we were a bit surprised to see that the stair snacking approach was also effective,” says Jonathan Little, assistant professor at UBC’s Okanagan campus and study co-author. “Vigorously climbing a few flights of stairs on your coffee or bathroom break during the day seems to be enough to boost fitness in people who are otherwise sedentary.”

The study was published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.

About Ben Renner

Writer, editor, curator, and social media manager based in Denver, Colorado. View my writing at

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