Just a few minutes of stair climbing in short bursts throughout the day can improve cardiovascular health, according to a new Canadian study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.
The research, conducted by kinesiologists from McMaster University and the University of British Columbia (UBC) Okanagan, reveals that short bursts of exercise is enough to improve fitness levels in people who are otherwise sedentary.
“The findings make it even easier for people to incorporate ‘exercise snacks’ into their day,” said Dr. Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster and senior author on the study.
“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 exercise is tied to better brain function, mental health and overall quality of life.
When it comes to brief bouts of vigorous exercise — or sprint interval training (SIT) — research has shown that these bursts are most effective when performed as a single session, with a few minutes of recovery between the intense bursts. These require a total time commitment of 10 minutes or so.
For the new study, researchers set out to determine if SIT “exercise snacks,” or vigorous bouts of stair climbing performed as single sprints spread throughout the day, would be sufficient to improve cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF). CRF is a health marker linked to longevity and cardiovascular disease risk, as well as a critical clinical risk factor in people with severe mental illness.
One group of sedentary young adults vigorously climbed a three-flight stairwell three times per day, separated by one to four hours of recovery. They repeated the protocol three times each week over the course of six weeks. The researchers compared the change in their fitness to a control group which did not exercise.
“We know that sprint interval training works, but we were a bit surprised to see that the stair snacking approach was also effective,” said Dr. 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.”
In addition to being more fit, the stair climbers were also stronger compared to their sedentary counterparts at the end of the study. They also generated more power during a maximal cycling test.
As a next step, researchers want to evaluate a variety of exercise snacking protocols with varying recovery times, and the effect on other health-related indicators such as blood pressure and glycemic control.
Source: McMaster University