Will a little exercise do a lot?

by | Exercise and Fitness

They arrive at their desk, huffing and puffing. They need a few moments to gather their breath before they can speak. And they’re usually conscious about their health.

Do you have a member of the stairs club at your workplace? Maybe you are one yourself.

These are the folks who will eschew the convenience of the elevator to climb several flights of stairs when they arrive for the day or after lunch as a form of exercise.

But does the practice do you any good? Well, American researchers say they may be on to something.

They wanted to find out whether these “stair-climbing exercise snacks” improved cardio fitness.

They recruited 24 young people from their university who were generally healthy but mostly sedentary – they did less than one hour of physical exercise a week. Then they sorted them into two groups.

One group would continue without changing anything about the amount of exercise they did. The other group were told to climb three flights of stairs a few times on every other day, with at least a couple of hours of rest between each climb (this is what turned it from sustained exercise into an exercise “snack”).

They did this for six weeks. And the researchers measured the cardiorespiratory fitness of the students before the experiment began, and at its end, so that they could compare how the two groups fared.

At the beginning of the experiment, both groups had similar fitness, but by the end, there was an improvement in the training group compared to the control.

It was modest – about a five per cent increase in peak oxygen consumption during exercise (which is a typical way to measure someone’s fitness), but still a reasonable result. Over time, the stair-climbers got better and faster at their activity, and completed all of the training sessions.


The researchers are investigating these sorts of “exercise snacks” for people who report being so time poor that they’re unable to get regular exercise.

By adjusting your behaviour and doing away with a few conveniences, it is possible to get snippets of exercise here and there that can help improve your overall fitness and reduce your risk of chronic disease down the road.

But the research also suggests such snacks still can’t replace a dedicated exercise session.

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