How to test your heart health by climbing stairs

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  • Testing heart health may involve consulting doctors which can be quite costly
  • Researchers have found a simpler, inexpensive way to test if your heart is working optimally
  • It involves climbing a few flights of stairs in a set time

It is not easy for the average person to determine how healthy their heart is without the help of a health professional. Recent research, however, discovered that by performing an activity known as the stairs test, it is possible to tell whether your heart is functioning optimally. 

A study presented at EACVI (European Association of Cardiovascular Imaginng) – Best of Imaging 2020 aimed to examine the relationship between a simple activity and results from exercise testing in a laboratory. 

The stairs test

“The stairs test is an easy way to check your heart health,” said study author, Dr Jesús Peteiro. “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 researchers came to this conclusion after conducting a study that involved 165 patients showing symptoms of coronary artery disease who were referred for exercise testing. These symptoms included chest pains and shortness of breath when doing physical activity. 

Running to the point of exhaustion 

For the purpose of exercise testing, the patients had to walk or run on a treadmill (with increasing intensity) with their exercise capacity measured as metabolic equivalents (METs). This continued until the subjects were exhausted, and then they could rest for between 15 to 20 minutes. After resting, the patients were timed while climbing four flights of stairs.

The researchers then examined the relationship between METs during exercise testing and the time taken to climb the stairs. Existing research indicates 10 METs during exercise testing is associated with a lower mortality rate (living longer).

In the present study, it was found that patients who took less than 40–45 seconds to climb the stairs had 9–10 METs, whereas those who took more than 1.5 minutes to climb the stairs achieved fewer than 8 METs. This means that patients who took longer to climb the stairs would have an increased risk of mortality. 

Based on the study, Dr Peteiro stated that the link between the stairs time and exercise capacity would be similar in the general population. As a result, the stairs test can be used by the general public as an inexpensive method for testing heart health – but if you are known to have coronary artery disease or are showing other symptoms, a health professional should be consulted for further analysis.

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