How fast can you walk up a flight of stairs? It could predict how long you’ll live
If you can charge up four flights of stairs in less than a minute, you’re likely to have a lower risk of early death from chronic disease. If you can’t — get working on your fitness.
That’s the outcome of Spanish research presented this week at a European Society of Cardiology conference: not so surprisingly, it found higher exercise capacity predicts reduced odds of dying from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other causes.
“Our results provide further evidence of the benefits of exercise and being fit on health and longevity,” said study author Dr Jesús Peteiro, a cardiologist at University Hospital A Coruña, in a statement.
“In addition to keeping body weight down, physical activity has positive effects on blood pressure and lipids, reduces inflammation, and improves the body’s immune response to tumours.”
The study involved more than 12,500 participants known or suspected to have coronary artery disease. They underwent an exercise echocardiography on a treadmill, walking and then running with increasing intensity until they reached exhaustion.
The purpose of this task was to measure metabolic equivalents (METs), a unit that tracks the rate of energy expenditure during physical activity.
One MET is the energy used while sitting. Low-intensity activities such as slowly walking use up to three METS; moderate-intensity activities such as brisk walking use three to six METs; and high-intensity activities push into six METs and beyond.
In this study, participants were deemed to have a good functional capacity if they could achieve 10 METs on the exercise task.
Peteiro said that’s equivalent to walking three flights of stairs at a very fast pace, or four flights of stairs at a fast pace (in less than a minute).
Participants were then followed up over a period of about five years, to compare their long-term health (or whether they died) to their performance in the test.
Those with poor functional capacity were about three times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those with good functional capacity (3 percent of the former died of cardiovascular disease in the follow-up period, compared to 1 percent of the latter).
Those with good functional capacity were also about half as likely to die from cancer (0.8 percent of them died of cancer in the follow-up period, compared to 1.5 percent of those with poor functional capacity), and a third as likely to die from other causes (0.6 percent compared to 1.7 percent).
Fitter proved to be better: each additional MET they had achieved on the treadmill lowered their odds of early death.