Stairs Vs. Walking for Cardio

Women walking up stairs with exercise balls

There are three factors that determine the benefits of physical activity: intensity, duration and frequency. Walking on level ground is considered to be a low- to moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, depending on your speed, while stair climbing is more of a moderate- to high-intensity aerobic workout. They both require little or no experience or equipment and are great for cardio. Climbing stairs and walking are activities that can be performed separately or together.


Like other types of moderate-intensity exercise, walking has numerous cardiovascular benefits. It helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, mental stress, obesity, vascular stiffness and inflammation. Moderate exercise, including walking, also provides protection against cancer, dementia, depression, erectile dysfunction and peripheral artery disease, and it lowers death rate.

Three Harvard studies were conducted on walking and cardiovascular health. One study showed that 10,269 male graduates of Harvard College who walked a minimum of nine miles per week were linked to a diminished death rate of 22 percent. Another study was performed among 44,452 male health professionals, who walked a minimum of 30 minutes per day. They were linked to an 18 percent reduced risk of coronary artery disease. A third study included 72,488 female nurses who walked a minimum of three hours per week. They were associated with a 35 percent reduced risk of cardiac death and heart attack and a 34 percent lower risk of stroke.

Stair Climbing

In addition to being an effective aerobic exercise, walking up stairs is also an effective muscle-strengthening exercise. When climbing stairs, your buttocks muscles and thighs are engaged more heavily than walking on level ground. Stairs provide the same cardiovascular benefits as walking.

Researchers in Canada monitored 17 healthy men with an average age of 64 while they walked, climbed stairs and lifted weights. Stair climbing was twice as demanding as brisk walking and 50 percent more difficult than lifting weights or walking up a steep incline. Walking up stairs attained maximum exertion much faster than walking. Even though stairs can be so taxing, they can be a healthy plus if taken at a slow and steady pace. A Harvard Alumni Study showed that men averaging a minimum of eight flights of stairs daily attained a 33 percent reduced mortality rate than sedentary men.


Physical activities burn calories. The number of calories burned depends on your body weight and the duration or amount of distance you cover. A 15-year study performed in 2009 of 4,995 men and women indicated that the average middle-aged American will gain approximately 2.2 pounds per year. The study showed that the more they walked, the less weight they gained.

Depending on your intensity level, you can burn 204 to 305 calories walking for a one-hour duration at 2 mph. Walking at a pace of approximately 4.7 mph will help you burn as many calories as running. Climbing stairs will burn up to 50 percent more calories than walking on a flat surface. You will burn two to three times more calories climbing stairs at a slow pace than you would walking briskly on level ground. However, calorie expenditures vary widely from person to person.


To stay in good health, you should aim to walk at least 30 minutes per day for five days a week or walk up stairs at least 30 minutes per day for three days a week. If you can't do it all at once, break it up into three 10-minute sessions per day. You will gain health benefits whether you walk or stair step at a slow pace or a faster pace. The main thing is to be physically active on a daily basis and to stick with it. Walk to work instead of driving. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Every little bit will help lower your health risks.