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Once you've been walking the stairs for a while, try running to up your workout intensity.
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Climbing stairs is one of the easiest and most effective ways of squeezing exercise into your day. As long as it's not against company or municipal rules, you can walk or run the stairs at work or school, in empty stadiums and at parks. The longer the stairs you have access to, the better -- you won't have to spend as much time making U-turns or turning corners. That said, you can make do with almost any flight of stairs.
Stair climbing offers all the benefits of regular cardiovascular exercise, including improved mood and reduced risk of some diseases. Whether you walk or run, stair-climbing is also weight-bearing exercise -- so it can help improve bone density in your legs, hips and spine. If you're exercising for weight loss, climbing stairs at a moderate pace can burn 300 or more calories per hour -- roughly equal to cycling at 10 mph. Finally, climbing stairs is almost always free; plus, it's a way of practicing something you probably already do frequently in the course of your everyday life.
Get Geared Up
You don't need much to climb stairs -- just the stairs themselves; sturdy, stable shoes and comfortable workout clothes. The best stairs for a workout offer good traction, and are neither unusually shallow nor unusually steep. If you're exercising outdoors, be particularly careful about traction when the stairs are wet. Handrails are handy for safety's sake, although you should only use them for a safeguard as you descend -- unless you have stability problems, in which case you're perfectly justified in using the handrail on the way up as well.
For the most part, proper stair-climbing technique is as simple as planting your feet firmly and completely on each successive step -- don't leave your heels hanging off the edges. While you're at it, watch to make sure your toes and knees keep pointing in the same direction throughout each climbing stride, and that your knees don't bend any sharper than 90 degrees. Try not to hold onto the handrail at all on your way up. Instead, think of standing tall and squeezing your core muscles for extra stability.
How Much and When
If you're focused on getting or staying healthy, start with as much stair climbing as you can handle -- even if it's just five minutes. Gradually increase your time and intensity until you reach the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations for healthy adults: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. If you're working out to lose weight, you may -- depending on your diet -- need to spend an hour or more every day working out. Stair climbing can definitely contribute to that, but shouldn't represent the entirety of your workout plan; mix in other types of aerobic exercise to help you avoid overuse injuries, and strength training to build lean muscle.
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