Evaluate your heart health with the stair test
Climbing four floors in less than a minute indicates good heart health, according to research presented at EACVI – Best of Imaging 2020, a scientific conference of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).
“The stair test is an easy way to check your heart health,” said study author Dr. Jesús Peteiro, a cardiologist at A Coruña University Hospital in Spain. “If it takes you more than a minute and a half to climb four flights of stairs, your health is suboptimal and it would be a good idea to see a doctor.”
This study was conducted to examine the relationship between a daily activity – in our case climbing stairs – and the results obtained from testing the effort in a laboratory. The idea was to identify a simple and inexpensive method of assessing heart health, said Dr. Peteiro. This method could help doctors in sorting patients for more extensive examinations.
The study included 165 symptomatic patients with a recommendation to test for physical exertion due to known or suspected coronary heart disease. Symptoms of coronary heart disease include chest pain or difficulty breathing during exercise. Participants walked or ran on a treadmill, gradually increasing the intensity and continuing until exhaustion. Exercise capacity was measured as metabolic equivalents (MET), which is the ratio between the metabolic rate of a person at rest and the metabolic rate of a person performing a physical activity. After resting (15-20 minutes), patients were asked to climb four floors (60 stairs) at a fast pace, without stopping, but also without running, and the time was recorded.
The researchers analyzed the relationship between MET achieved during exercise testing and the time required to climb four rows of stairs. Patients who climbed the stairs in less than 40-45 seconds obtained more than 9-10 MET. Previous studies have shown that a MET score of 10 during an exercise test is related to a low mortality rate (1% or less per year or 10% in 10 years). In contrast, patients who needed 1.5 minutes or more to climb stairs achieved a MET score of less than 8, which translates into a mortality rate of 2-4% per year or 30% in 10 years.
For the treadmill test, the researchers assessed cardiac function during exercise – if the heart is functioning normally during exercise, this indicates a low likelihood of coronary heart disease. They then compared these findings with the results of climbing stairs. Approximately 58% of patients who completed climbing stairs in more than 1.5 minutes had abnormal heart function during a treadmill examination. In contrast, only 32% of those who climbed the stairs in less than a minute had abnormal heart function while examining the treadmill.
Dr. Peteiro specified that this correlation between the time of climbing the stairs and the exercise capacity (ie MET) would be similar in the general population. But appropriate mortality rates and cardiac function by imaging would be more favorable than for patients with suspected or confirmed symptoms and diseases of the coronary arteries.
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