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Climbing four flights of stairs in less than a minute indicates good heart health

Dr Jesús Peteiro (University Hospital A Coruña, Spain) and colleagues have found, in a new study, that people who climbed four flights of stairs in less than 40–45 seconds achieved more than 9–10 metabolic equivalents (METs; a measure of exercise capacity). Previous studies have found achieving 10 METs during an exercise test is associated with a low mortality rate (1% or less per year, or 10% in 10 years).

The new study, which was presented at EACVI – Best of Imaging 2020, examined the relationship between a daily activity — i.e. climbing stairs — and the results obtained from exercise testing in a laboratory. Dr Peteiro: “The idea was to find a simple and inexpensive method of assessing heart health. This can help physicians triage patients for more extensive examinations.”

The authors evaluated 165 people who had been referred for exercise testing because of known or suspected coronary artery disease. Symptoms included chest pain or shortness of breath during exertion. Participants walked or ran on a treadmill, gradually increasing the intensity, and continuing until exhaustion. Exercise capacity was measured as METs. After resting for 15 to 20 minutes, patients were asked to climb four flights of stairs (60 stairs) at a fast pace without stopping, but also without running, and the time was recorded.

Peteiro et al analysed the relationship between METs achieved during exercise testing and the time it took to climb four flights of stairs. Patients who climbed the stairs in less than 40–45 seconds achieved more than 9–10 METs. In contrast, patients who took 1.5 minutes or longer to climb the stairs achieved less than eight METs, which translates to a mortality rate of 2–4% per year, or 30% in 10 years.

During the treadmill test, the researchers also generated images of the heart to assess its function during exercise – if the heart works normally during exercise this indicates a low likelihood of coronary artery disease. They then compared these findings to the results of the stair climb. Some 58% of patients who completed the stair climb in more than 1.5 minutes had abnormal heart function during the treadmill examination. In contrast, just 32% of those who climbed the stairs in less than one minute had abnormal heart function during the treadmill examination.

“The stairs test is an easy way to check your heart health. 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,” says Peteiro.

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