Often times when measuring heart health, we are encouraged to seek a medical professional and perform expensive tests.
However, a new study highlighted by the European Society of Cardiology has found a simple and inexpensive way to assess heart health (1).
Dr. Jesus Peteiro from the University Hospital A Coruna, Spain states that if it takes more than one and a half minutes to climb four flights of stairs or 60 stairs in total, then your heart health could use improvement (1).
The study assessed 165 patients who were suspected to have coronary heart disease.
These patients all had symptoms of chest pain or shortness of breath when exercising (1).
All of the participants walked or ran on a treadmill while intermittently increasing the intensity. When the patients were exhausted, their exercise capacity was measured in MET’s (1).
Then, all participants rested for 15-20 minutes until fully recovered, and then were asked to complete a stair-climbing test.
This test required the subjects to climb four flights of stairs.
All participants climbed 60 stairs, the same number of stairs as 4 flights.
None of the patients could run or stop during the test, and their times were recorded.
After their ascent, the researchers then looked at the test results and the relationship between MET’s and the time it took to climb the stairs.
Patients who climbed the stairs in less than 45 seconds achieved more than 9-10 MET’s (1).
Other studies have shown that 10 MET’s is linked to a low mortality rate.
On the other hand, participants who took 1.5 minutes or more to complete the required number of steps exerted less than 8 MET’s.
8 MET’s during an exercise test is linked to a higher mortality rate (1).
This study also looked at images of heart function during the treadmill test. It was shown that 58% of those who completed the stair test in more than 1.5 minutes also had abnormal heart function (1).
In contrast, only 32% of those who finished in under 45 seconds had abnormal heart function after the stair ascent (1).
Overall, Dr. Jesus Peteiro found that the significant correlation of the stair-climbing test time and exercise capacity could be translated to the general population.
In better terms, anyone can use this test to determine their current heart health.
Good Heart Health
Oftentimes, when we think of “good heart health”, healthy eating and regular physical activity, come to mind.
While these are great, let’s take a deeper dive into the big impact of lifestyle changes to promote a lower risk of heart disease.
There are many factors that contribute to heart health.
For example, higher blood pressure, high cholesterol levels (blood fats), or abnormal heart rate can increase heart disease risk.
The American Heart Association (AHA) states that a healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons against cardiovascular disease (2).
Here are a few key ways to reduce the risk of heart disease:
Regular Physical Activity – Heart Health
Regular physical activity will help to increase the number of calories you burn each day.
Each week, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.
Physical activity can help to maintain weight, prevent obesity, and improve cardiovascular health.
If you cannot schedule a 30-minute workout into your day, try adding short bursts of exercise throughout your day.
Taking the stairs or walking during phone calls are both easy ways to increase the number of calories burned!
Overall Healthy Diet – Heart Health
A heart-healthy diet can lower the risk of heart disease and support long-term overall health.
Limiting cholesterol levels and getting a good source of antioxidants and nutrient-rich foods is key in supporting a heart-healthy diet.
The American Heart Association suggests that an overall healthy eating pattern emphasizes:
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables without high-calorie sauces
- Choose whole grains like barley, flaxseed, oats, quinoa or rice cakes
- Choose foods with high dietary fiber (leafy greens)
- Eat a variety of nuts and legumes ( whole beans, walnuts)
- Choose a variety of fatty fish with high omega-3 (herring, mackerel, tuna, or sardines)
- Low-fat dairy products
- Healthy fats like olive oil and avocado (these provide a good source of cholesterol)
- Limit alcohol consumption and drink in moderation
- Avoid cooking with too much salt to limit inflammation. Consider using a salt substitute!
- When eating out, pay close attention to portion sizes!
Additionally, limiting saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and choosing lean meat and poultry can reduce the risk of heart attack, and promote healthy blood pressure (2).
Daily Aspirin Therapy
An interesting, and commonly used, form of therapy is taking an aspirin each day.
Aspirin works to prevent clotting in your blood. This can help blood flow freely through your arteries and prevent a stroke (5).
If you have high cholesterol or atherosclerosis, this may be beneficial.
However, consult your doctor and pharmacist before taking any medication.
Risk of Heart Disease
For many reasons, heart-healthy foods and regular exercise can keep us healthy.
Without these two factors, our health can rapidly decline.
Heart disease is the number one leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) (3).
Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease. Coronary heart disease is caused by a buildup of plaque in the walls of your arteries.
When the plaque builds up over time, it can narrow the artery and restrict blood flow. This is called atherosclerosis.
If the coronary arteries cannot supply the heart with blood, there is a high risk of heart failure and stroke.
Along with atherosclerosis, high cholesterol increases the chance of heart attack and stroke.
Cholesterol is used to build healthy cells, but too much LDL or bad cholesterol can worsen your artery condition, and damage the blood vessels.
Too much buildup of cholesterol can obstruct blood flow, and increase blood pressure, another cause of heart disease.
Another factor to look out for is triglycerides.
Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood that is composed of glycerol and a trio of fatty acids.
When triglycerides aren’t used for energy, they are stored as fat and can increase the risk of obesity and heart disease.
What Does the Stair-Climbing Test Assess?
As mentioned in the previous study, the subject’s heart health was measured in MET’s.
MET’s are a measure of exercise capacity based on oxygen consumption, similar to VO2max.
Luckily, there is a direct correlation between MET’s and VO2max that allows us to apply this test to our own health.
VO2max is the maximum amount of oxygen that can you can use during physical activity. (The higher, the better!)
In this particular study, the patient’s heart health was determined based on the number of stairs they could climb in a minute.
The exercise test could also be used as a good indicator of leg strength and muscular endurance.
How to Prepare for the Test for Heart Health
Before engaging in any new physical activity program or completing an exercise test, it is important to consider any risks.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), there are eight different heart disease risk factors:
- Age: men over the age of 45 and women over the age of 55
- Family History: Heart attack or sudden death in a family member under the age of 55 for men, or 65 for women
- Smoking: current smoking, or quit within the last 6 months
- Sedentary Lifestyle: not participating in moderate physical activity for at least 3 days per week for 3 months
- Obesity: Body mass index of more than 30
- High blood pressure: SBP of over 130 and DBP of over 80, or taking high blood pressure medication.
- Dyslipidemia: LDL (bad cholesterol) over 130 mg/dl, or HDL (good cholesterol) under 40 mg/dl, or taking medication.
- Pre-Diabetes: fasting glucose over 100 mg/dl
- Negative risk factor: HDL (good cholesterol) over 50 mg/dl can actually provide heart-healthy benefits!
With three or more of these risk factors, it is encouraged that an exercise test is performed before engaging in a new exercise program (4).
Before trying this test on your own, consider the risk factors above and think about your current fitness level.
If you don’t exert a lot of energy on a regular basis, consider doing this test with the supervision of a medical professional.
Additionally, it may be in your benefit to perform a quick warm-up before performing this test!
If at any time during this test you feel dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, or abnormal heart rate, stop immediately and consult a doctor.
If the stair-climbing test is not attainable because of injury or access, consider other exercise tests!
The Queen’s Step Test or the 12-minute are also great tests that can be performed at home.
Heart Health – Summary
There are many methods of attaining heart-healthy benefits and a healthy lifestyle.
However, according to the CDC, a heart-healthy diet and regular physical activity take the cake to create a lower risk of heart disease! (3)
A balanced, nutrient-rich diet should be consumed to help lower the risk of heart disease.
All family meals should include a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and limited sodium.
Accordingly, our diets can affect things like inflammation and cholesterol levels.
Things like blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and daily activity all play a role to lower the risk of heart disease and instances of a heart attack.
Additionally, at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day can cause a lower risk of heart disease and increase muscular strength and endurance.
According to the results of the study done by Dr. Jesus Peteiro, you can now measure your heart health at home!
Things like a body mass index calculator, blood pressure test, or lab exercise tests can often be hard to access.
However, the stair test is easy to complete at home and sets an easy-to-understand guideline for those at risk of heart disease.
Because there are no vaccines for preventing heart disease, it is up to us to stay healthy.
To ensure a healthy lifestyle, it is important to lower cholesterol levels, engage in regular physical activity, eat a balanced meal, and get your heart health checked regularly.
Preventing a heart attack, COPD, or coronary heart disease can be the difference between life or death, so the next time you find a few flights of stairs, set a timer and get moving!
- “Test Your Heart Health by Climbing Stairs.” European Society of Cardiology. Web. 11 Sept. 2021.
- “The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations.” Www.heart.org. Web. 11 Sept. 2021.
- “Heart Disease Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 08 Sept. 2020. Web. 11 Sept. 2021.
- Liguori, Gary, Yuri Feito, Charles Fountaine, and Brad A. Roy. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer, 2018. Print.
- “Should You Take a Daily Aspirin for Your Heart?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 09 Jan. 2019. Web. 11 Sept. 2021.