Take the Stairs for a Longer Life?

Bauhaus StairwayWe have four levels in our home – three sets of stairs to climb. So this new study in Nature Medicine yesterday definitely has our attention. Digging into observational activity monitor data from the UK Biobank, Emmanuel Stamatakis and colleagues from all over the world found that short bursts of vigorous activity – like quickly climbing stairs – might help a person’s odds for a longer life.

Specifically, they found a 38 to 40 percent reduction in all-cause mortality for people who on average had three bursts of vigorous physical activity, each lasting only one or two minutes. They saw a similar reduction in risk from cancer deaths. But for cardiovascular deaths, the risk reduction was even a bit bigger, 48 to 39 percent.

So we’re feeling rather fond of our stairs.

Yes, It’s Observational

Of course, this is an observational study, so drawing conclusions about cause and effect is tough to do. Lots of factors sneak into the likelihood that a person will be up for a short burst of running to catch a bus or dashing up the stairs. Some people who just don’t feel like it may have things going on with their health that escape notice.

Stamatakis et al made a good effort to understand how confounding factors might be influencing their results. They conducted sensitivity analyses to see if individuals with poor health or high BMI might be influencing the results. They examined E-values to understand the possibility that unmeasured factors might be influencing their findings.

After all that, they concluded that the relationship between these short bursts of activities like climbing stairs and a longer life was robust.

So What Does This Mean?

In sum, we take two serious implications away from this study (the fondness for our stairs doesn’t count). First, these data remind us once again that all activity counts for leading an active life. It’s very doable says Stamatakis:

“Upping the intensity of daily activities requires no time commitment, no preparation, no club memberships, no special skills. It simply involves stepping up the pace while walking or doing the housework with a bit more energy.”

Second, it suggests once again that there can be real value in designing the environment that shapes our lives to create more opportunities for these unplanned bouts of more intense activity. So we don’t have to plan a trip to the gym to validate a healthy, active life.

Click here for the study, here, here, and here for further perspective.

Bauhaus Stairway, painting by Oskar Schlemmer / WikiArt

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December 9, 2022

One Response to “Take the Stairs for a Longer Life?”

  1. December 09, 2022 at 6:34 am, Al Lewis said:

    if you’ve read this far and you’re serious about stairs, join me at https://bit.ly/3iJmqrj March 25 and we’ll Climb to the Top together. I’ll be 67–if I can do it, so can you.