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Take the stairs. Always.

5 January 2017


By Claire Richardson (Osteopath)

Last year, Shaun and I took a trip to Hong Kong to visit a close friend and colleague of ours. Shaun is my husband, business partner and fellow osteo  (Yes, we spend a lot of time together).

We had a pretty leisurely week comprised of sightseeing, eating and drinking. For anyone considering a trip, I can highly recommend a large daily dosage of char siu bao and xiao long bao (Chinese BBQ pork buns and soup dumplings) and the clichéd yet obligatory and incredibly delicious Peking duck.

Holy. Freaking. Moly.

Benefits of stair climbing

Anyway, I digress.

While we were holidaying and making a concerted effort to sample every local food and cocktail known to Hong Kong, I asked my friend what it was that she enjoyed about living there.

She mentioned all of the things that come with living in a busy, international metropolis: good nightlife, easy transport, meeting interesting people all the time and good food.

She also made a point of mentioning the lack of overweight people in Hong Kong.

Stairs in Hong KongNow, anyone who has been to Hong Kong might have some idea of why that is. For those of you who haven’t yet visited, let me enlighten you.

Hong Kong is built on the side of a mountain. A steep one. Like, really steep. I wouldn’t be surprised if mountain goats got puffed out climbing up some of the hills.

My friend is sporty – she’s played hockey for 15 years and has always enjoyed keeping fit. When Shaun and I were huffing and puffing our way up these hills, she was bounding on ahead. When I told her how comparatively unfit I felt, she assured me that her first few weeks living in Hong Kong were the same, and that she’s simply adapted to her surroundings and built better cardiovascular health and muscles due to climbing hundreds of stairs all day!

Now, I’m not sure if she was just trying to make me feel better (thanks, mate!), but certainly stair climbing is a fantastic aerobic activity which can have fabulous impacts on our health. Hence, why I am writing about it.

The benefits of stair climbing

1. It helps with weight management.

Yes, health and wellbeing are SO much more than weight management, but it’s still worth mentioning.

Stair climbing burns more calories per minute than jogging, and about 2 minutes extra stair climbing each day is estimated to be enough to stave off middle-aged weight gain.

Obesity is a concern in our society as it brings with it the increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Stair climbing is a fantastic way to work off that doughnut you scoffed after lunch and reduce your risk of developing the above health conditions.

2. It improves life expectancy and lowers disease risk.

I know I run the risk of sounding like one of those cheesy politicians when I’m throwing stats around the place, but here’s some impressive information anyway:

  • Seven minutes of stair climbing per day HALVES the risk of a heart attack over 10 years.
  • Climbing eight flights of stairs per day is thought to reduce the risk of early death by 33 per cent.

Now, another way of saying this is that it’s really, really good for your heart.

Your heart is a muscle. It needs to be exercised to remain fit. Your heart acts like a pump, and the arteries in your chest are the pipes that carry blood in and out of the pump. Sometimes fat can accumulate in the arteries near your heart, leading to a risk of heart attack or stroke.

High-effort exercise like stair climbing increases the speed of your heartbeat and also increase the strength of your heartbeat. This not only uses up fats and sugars in your blood (from the foods you eat), but also acts like a bit of a high-pressure hose to clean out the insides of your arteries and keep the fatty deposits at bay.

3. Stair climbing is a fabulous whole-body exercise and can assist with ankle, knee, hip and back pain.

We’re designed to be able to climb stairs. Think about it – there were no lifts or escalators in the caveman era!

The movement of stair climbing is what we call a “functional” exercise – in other words, we need to be able to do it in our day-to-day lives.

Efficient stair climbing relies on bending at the ankle, hip and knee, as well as twisting through the torso. Power is generated in our calf muscles, hamstrings, glutes (bum muscles), hip flexors, abdomen, back muscles and chest. Not to mention the muscles included in the arm swing!

You can see how it really is a “whole body” exercise, creating strength and flexibility all over.

When we use the body in this way (lots of parts working together at once), we’re able to improve niggling pain by spreading the load of an exercise over a large area.

Now, obviously, if you’re injured, see your osteopath or other practitioner to get a diagnosis. Have a chat to them and see if stair climbing would be a good addition to your rehab routine!

If you’re not injured, why not try doing what the Hong Kong locals do, and improve your health and fitness with some stairs. They don’t cost anything and they’ll make you feel less guilty about that extra dumpling!

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