Stair walking is a high-intensity but relatively low-impact exercise.
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Spending 20 minutes walking up and down the stairs packs all kinds of benefits -- increased strength, endurance and bone density; better balance and agility; and all the benefits you'd expect from a cardio workout, including a reduced risk of developing heart disease. Your stair workouts can also help you work toward your weight-loss goals. But when all is said and done, whether any of that is actually enough to "help" depends on your specific goals.
A Cardiovascular Workout
On their own, six or seven days of 20-minute stair-walking workouts don't quite meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio -- but they come very close; toss in just one group fitness class, hike or other fitness outing every week and you'll meet the CDC's recommendations. Meanwhile, walking the stairs still provides all the benefits of any cardiovascular workout -- including reduced stress, improved mood, increased mobility and reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Walking stairs builds strength and endurance in your entire lower body -- your quads, calves, glutes and, to a lesser degree, hamstrings. Because your feet and legs carry your full body weight as you go up and down the stairs, this type of exercise also builds bone density in your lower body and lumbar spine -- and finally, navigating your way up and down the stairs helps develop your balance and agility.
For Weight Loss
Stair walking burns a lot of calories -- more than 500 calories per hour if you weigh 150 pounds or about 180 calories for every 20-minute bout. It'd take almost three weeks of daily walking workouts for you to burn the equivalent of one pound of fat -- but if you up your workouts to an hour per day, you can burn the same amount of calories in about a week. Watching your diet helps too; if you eat a reduced-calorie but nutrient-rich diet, the weight will come off faster.
Duration and Intensity
When you first start walking stairs, you might need to work up to 20-minute bouts; even just keeping it up for 10 minutes at a stretch is a great start, and several short sessions can add up to the same benefits you'd get from a single, longer session. With that said, your body can soon adapt to 20 minutes of stair walking so that it really isn't so hard. If fitness is your primary goal and you want to see continuing benefits, you're going to have to either increase the intensity level -- try jogging or running a few flights of stairs -- or walk for longer.
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