Heart disease: a simple stair test could help assess your cardiovascular health score

Stair test to assess your heart health | Photo credit: iStock Images

Key highlights

  • The stair test is a simple and inexpensive way to check your heart health.
  • If it takes you more than a minute and a half to climb four flights of stairs, your health is suboptimal and it is advisable to see a doctor.

Climbing four flights of stairs in less than a minute indicates good heart health, according to a study featured at EACVI – Best of Imaging 2020, a scientific congress of European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

This study was conducted to investigate the relationship between a daily activity – climbing stairs – and the results from an exercise test in a laboratory. “The idea was to find a simple and inexpensive way to assess heart health,” said Dr. Jesús Peteiro, cardiologist at A Coruña University Hospital, Spain. “This can help doctors find patients for more extensive exams.”

This is how the stair test was carried out:

  1. The study included 165 symptomatic patients with known or suspected coronary artery disease.
  2. These patients were due and referred to an exercise test because of their suspected heart disease.
  3. Symptoms included chest pain or shortness of breath on exertion.
  4. As part of the test, participants walked or ran on a treadmill, gradually increasing the intensity and continuing until exhaustion.
  5. Exercise capacity was measured as metabolic equivalents (METs).
  6. After a rest period of 15 to 20 minutes, the patients were asked to climb four flights of stairs (60 steps) at high speed without stopping.
  7. The pace should be fast, but not like running, and the time was recorded.

“The stair test is an easy way to check your heart health,” said the study author. “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.”

The combination of treadmill test and stair test:

  1. During the treadmill test, the researchers also took pictures of the heart to assess its function during exercise.
  2. If the heart is functioning normally during exercise, this indicates a low chance of coronary artery disease.
  3. They then compared these results with the results of climbing stairs. About 58 percent of patients who climbed stairs more than 1.5 minutes had abnormal heart function during the treadmill exam.
  4. In contrast, only 32 percent of those who climbed the stairs in less than a minute had abnormal heart function during the treadmill exam.

Interpretation of the results:

We mentioned earlier that participants’ exercise capacity was measured in metabolic equivalents (METs).
Patients who climbed the stairs in less than 40-45 seconds achieved more than 9-10 METs.
Previous studies have shown that 10 METs during an exercise test is associated with a low death rate (1 percent or less per year, or 10 percent in 10 years).
In contrast, patients who took 1.5 minutes or more to climb the stairs achieved fewer than 8 METs, corresponding to a mortality rate of 2-4 percent per year or 30 percent in 10 years.

This test seems to advance the foundations of another test developed on the campus of the famous Harvard Medical School – the test called the HARVARD STEP TEST was developed by J Roswell Gallagher and Lucien Brouha (MD) at Harvard Fatigue Laboratories during World War II.

Take a heart and take good care of your heart:

Your doctor can determine your risk for heart disease by checking your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, and finding out about a history of heart disease in your family.

While you may not be able to change some risk factors, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of heart problems:

  1. stop smoking – If you find it impossible to quit smoking, try smoking less.
  2. Watch your blood pressure – High blood pressure can stress your heart. If you have high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s instructions carefully and take your prescribed medication every day.
  3. Keep track of your lipid levels – If you have high LDL or low HDL, or if your triglycerides are abnormally high, your doctor may prescribe you lipid-lowering drugs, such as statins. Proper diet and nutrition can also help you maintain healthy lipid levels.
  4. Do you do sports regulary – Stay physically active to reduce your risk of heart disease. Exercising regularly keeps cholesterol and blood pressure in check.
  5. Watch your weight – Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing heart disease. Follow a healthy lifestyle to maintain a healthy weight.
  6. Check your blood sugar regularly – If you have diabetes or high blood sugar, your chances of developing heart disease increase. Controlling sugar levels can reduce your risk.
  7. Vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids – Omega-3 fatty acids, which occur naturally in fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils and are also taken as dietary supplements, help to lower triglyceride levels and markers of inflammation.
  8. Manage stress. Stress can lead to high blood pressure, which can put you at risk of heart attack and stroke. Stress can also add to risks for cardiovascular diseases such as smoking, overeating, and sedentary lifestyle. Find ways to positively deal with the pressures of life – by speaking with a therapist or by incorporating meditation or yoga into your life.

You should take an active part in finding ways to prevent and treat heart disease. When lifestyle changes are not enough, various medications and other medical approaches are available.

Disclaimer: The tips and suggestions mentioned in this article are for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always contact your doctor or professional healthcare provider with specific questions about medical matters.

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