How Healthy is Your Heart? Take The Stair Test To Find Out

No need to make an appointment with a Cardiologist - this simple test only requires your nearest high-rise building. The "Stair Test" as health researchers call it, can be a good indicator on your heart health. For example, if a person can walk up four flights of stairs in under a minute, this is an adequate indicator of good cardiac health.

“The stairs test is an easy way to check your heart health,” said Dr. Jesús Peteiro, a cardiologist at University Hospital a Coruña and a study author. “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.”

The study of climbing stairs versus traditional exercise was recently presented during a European Society of Cardiology meeting. The study included 165 participants who were asked to do different cardio exercises and have their metabolic equivalents (METs) measured. Before we continue with the study, let's explain what metabolic equivalents are and their meaning.

Have you ever wondered how to calculate caloric expenditure from physical activity? It's hard to get an exact value, but physiologists have found a way to estimate caloric expenditures (without a fancy lab), by using metabolic equivalents. Metabolic equivalents are defined as caloric consumption (think your breathing) of an active individual compared with the individual at their resting metabolic rate. It's how much oxygen your body consumes during activity compared to how much oxygen the body consumed at rest. For example, most people at rest use 3.5mL of oxygen per kg of body weight per minute, which is about 1 kcal/kg/hr. So 1 MET is the equivalent to a Vo2 (the measure of blood consumption) of 3.5mL/kg/min (resting state) and is equal to burning 1 kcal/minute. When an individual performs an exercise, MET values are assigned to different physical activities to calculate how many calories are expended during that activity.

Below are some common examples of MET values based on the activity:

  • Walking (<2.0 mph strolling, very slow) = 2.0 METS

  • Home Activities (Cleaning, dusting, carrying out trash) = 2.5 METS

  • Conditioning Exercise (Light or moderate effort) = 3.5 METS

  • Bicycling (<10 mph, leisure) = 4.0 METS

  • Golf (General) = 4.5 METS

  • Basketball (General, non-game) = 6.0 METS

  • Swimming (Laps, freestyle, slow, moderate) = 7.0 METS

  • Stair Climbing (Four-flights in 1 minute or longer) = <8.0 METS

  • Conditioning Exercise (Calisthenics, pushups, situps, jumping jacks) = 8.0 METS

  • Stair Climbing (Four-flights in 40-45 seconds) = 9.0-10.0 METS

  • Bicycling (12-13.9 mph, moderate effort) = 10.0 METS

  • Running (7 mph, 8.5 min/mile) = 11.5 METS

  • Boxing (In the ring, general) = 12.0 METS

  • Running (10 mph, 6 min/mile) = 16.0 METS

The participants first ran or walked on a treadmill until the point of exhaustion, followed by measuring their METs. After a period of rest, the study group climbed up four flights of stairs as fast as they could, followed by measuring their METs. The participants who were able to climb the stairs in less than 45 seconds were able to achieve more than 9 to 10 METs. Those in the study group that climbed the flights in more than a minute achieved less that 8 METS.

So why are METs so important to your overall heart health? Because it could determine your lifespan.

Studies in the past showed that when an individual achieved 10 METs during an exercise test, this is linked with having a low death rate (1 percent or less per year). Those who took 1.5 minutes or longer to climb the four flights of stairs achieved less than 8 METs, linked to an anticipated death rate of 2-4 percent.

As we age, it's vital to keep our heart health and bodies active with oxygen-rich blood pumping throughout. Having an underactive heart can lead to stiffness in the arteries and other coronary heart diseases.

“Regular exercise and keeping risk factors controlled are the most important things one can do ensure that arteries stay healthy. When disease is present, drugs can be helpful to dilate the arteries and to minimize pain if there is symptomatic peripheral vascular disease. The results from this study also suggest that stretching improves vascular function,” said Jonathan Myers, PhD, a health research scientist and director of the Exercise Research Laboratory at the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System in California.

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