Move It

This Easy Daily Movement Cuts Heart Disease Risk By 20%

And it’s something a lot of us do anyway.

A dad carries his sleeping child up the stairs.
Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. Luckily, you don’t have to put in a ton of time or effort to reduce your risk. In fact, a new study finds that walking six sets of stairs per day may do the trick.

“Short bursts of high-intensity stair climbing are a time-efficient way to improve cardiorespiratory fitness and lipid profile, especially among those unable to achieve the current physical activity recommendations,” study co-author Lu Qi, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said in a statement.

For the study, Qi’s team collected data about sociodemographic factors, lifestyle factors, and stair climbing from more than 450,000 adults using the UK Biobank at baseline, then again five years later. They followed up with whether the participants developed heart problems for a median of 12.5 years.

The researchers found that climbing a set of stairs at least six times per day reduces the risk of developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, or a group of conditions including coronary artery disease and ischemic stroke that are caused by the buildup of plaque inside arteries, by nearly 20%.

Climbing stairs was an effective heart disease preventative in people who are less at risk of heart disease based on family history and risk factors. But in those more susceptible to heart disease, the effect was even stronger, and their increased risk was “effectively offset” by stair climbing.

Climbing stairs more than six to 10 times per day may decrease heart disease risk by a few percentage points more than doing it just six to 10 times per day, but the greatest risk reduction comes from the jump of zero to five times per day to six to 10.

It’s easy to incorporate more stair climbing into your life if you’re not hitting at least six sets of stairs a day. In your apartment, office, or at retail stories, take the stairs instead of an escalator or elevator. If you have stairs in your home, take a few more trips up and down each day; rather than yelling to your kid that dinner is ready in 10 minutes, climb the stairs and let them know. And if you don’t have stairs at home or in locations you frequent, try the stair machine at the gym or do a stairs workout at a local public stadium.

If you already climb six or more sets of stairs per day, another way to reduce your risk is by getting in your steps, particularly by walking briskly rather than by taking a leisurely stroll. One study found that for every 2,000 steps you walk per day up to 10,000 steps, your risk of premature death drops by about 8% to 11%, and your risk of developing heart disease or cancer drops by a similar amount.

So go for a walk, and climb some stairs while you’re at it. Your heart will thank you.