Are you planning to get your heart tested, then you can take a free and straightforward test of your heart health in your nearest high-rise building. As per some researchers from Spain, if you are that being able to climb four flights of stairs in under a minute, then it is an accurate indicator of good cardiac health. Dr. Jesús Peteiro, a cardiologist at University Hospital a Coruña and a study author, says the stairs test is an easy way to check your heart health.
Your health is suboptimal, and it would be a good idea to consult a doctor if it takes you more than one and a half minutes to ascend four flights of stairs. At a recent scientific meeting of the European Society of Cardiology, a study was presented. It compared the results of the stair-climbing test to those obtained from exercise testing conducted in a lab.
The research hasn't yet been peer-reviewed or published in any journal. Under the study, there were at least 165 study participants each walked or ran on a treadmill until exhaustion with their exercise capacity measured as metabolic equivalents (METs). The study group climbed four flights of stairs (60 steps) at a fast but non-running pace, then had their METs measured again after the rest period.
Participants who climbed the stairs in less than 40 to 45 seconds achieved more than 9 to 10 METs. Historical data proves that achieving 10 METs during an exercise test is linked with a low death rate (1 percent or less per year, or 10 percent over ten years). Less than 8 METs, was achieved by participants who took 1.5 minutes or longer to climb the stairs. It means that the anticipated death rate of 2 to 4 percent per year, or 30 percent in 10 years.
Fifty-eight percent of the participants who took more than 1.5 minutes to climb the stairs had abnormal heart function during exercise. Imaging of heart function during the tests revealed it. It compared to 32 percent of those who climbed the stairs in less than a minute.
Still, participants who climbed the stairs quickly demonstrated abnormal heart function — a possible marker for coronary heart disease. Dr. Renee Bullock-Palmer, a cardiologist and director of the Women’s Heart Center and director of noninvasive cardiac imaging at the Deborah Heart and Lung Center in New Jersey, said that fact demonstrates why the stair-climbing test shouldn’t be viewed as a substitute for more comprehensive evaluations.
Bullock-Palmer also said based on the study; the ability to climb stairs can be used as a crude way to assess one's physical function that may be predictive of overall heart health. Above all, we can say that this crude self-assessment cannot take the place of a proper physical exam, and history by a physician, and a fair, appropriately indicated stress test.
The same was agreed by Dr. Nicole Harkin, founder of the online heart health practice Whole Heart Cardiology. The professional added that during a a more typical stress test, sometimes we see evidence of heart problems (like changes in the EKG or the sonogram), even if a patient doesn’t have symptoms.
At times they pick up other issues, including dangerous blood pressure changes or heart rhythm issues, that would be missed with this kind of test. All study participants had symptoms associated with coronary artery disease, including chest pain or shortness of breath during exercise.
Peter said that the idea was to find a simple and inexpensive method of assessing heart health. It can help physicians triage patients for more extensive examinations. Doctors often use stair climbing to determine heart health.
It is an exercise that gets your heart rate up relatively quickly. Ideally, if there's an issue like a blocked heart artery, people tend to get symptoms, including chest pain or shortness of breath at higher heart rates. Often they use a person’s ability to climb a flight or two of stairs without issue as a sign that they should probably do OK during surgery.
The stair-climbing test is useful but has its limitations, said Dr. Oyere K. Onuma, a cardiologist at Yale Medicine and assistant professor of medicine at Yale. He also said the best part here is its ease. It can be done almost anywhere with the very little requirement in terms of equipment or personnel. It is also much cheaper and faster to do than the traditional stress tests and can be repeated multiple times to track any progress or changes in functional ability.
But the drawback is that the test is not standardized. The type of stairs, speed of climbing the stairs, the timing of effort can differ. This method also significantly limits the evaluation of patients with limited mobility and elderly patients, who may have more mechanical difficulty with climbing stairs.
Dr. Jeremy Pollock, a cardiologist with the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, said as a physician, it's essential to evaluate each patient and assess his or her current capabilities and state of health. For instance, a frail 80-year-old, mostly sedentary patient, should never be asked to walk up a flight of stairs. "Being able to complete a short duration of strenuous exercise is an excellent predictor that a patient is a relatively low risk in the short term from a cardiovascular perspective.
Thankfully, stair climbing isn’t the only way to do a cardiac self-assessment.
Factors including whether or not they can walk two city blocks or carry grocery bags to their car, or numerous other regular activities of daily living, can be used as indicators of cardiovascular health. Exercise ability is always a great indicator of overall heart health. If your ability to complete a moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise program ever changes, that’s a good sign something may be going on, and you should contact your doctor.”
You can also monitor for things like heart rate recovery as an indicator of how your heart is doing. Also, as wearables and health tech continues to improve and become more mainstream, we will increasingly be able to use data gathered at home, like heart rate variability, to inform us about our heart health.
Professionals advise that people may or may not be able to perform the stair-climbing stress test. But they should generally avoid stair climbing as a form of regular exercise. Climbing downstairs puts significant force on the knees. Be sure that you walk down carefully, taking care of your joints.