man running up a never-ending staircase.

This Simple Exercise Is One Reason People in the Blue Zones Live Longer

There’s nothing like taking the stairs to mess with your confidence. You can feel like you’re in the best shape you’ve ever been in—we’re talking cranking up the speed on the treadmill, and totally killing sprint sessions—then the second you’re faced with a single stairwell, you’re huffing and puffing like you’re ascending the stairway to heaven. Our personal experience can attest that taking the stairs can boost your fitness.

It turns out, climbing stairs might also help you live longer. According to the new Netflix documentary Live to 100: The Secrets of the Blue Zones, taking the stairs is one reason the people of Sardinia—a remote region of Italy—are extremely long-lived. Thanks to their two- to three-story houses, steep city streets, and rolling hills, Sardinian residents climb on average 30 flights of stairs a day (1).

But you don’t need to move to Italy to snag the health-boosting benefits of stair climbing (though, we’re in full support if you need a good excuse). Whether you hit the StairMaster, or swap the escalator for the stairs, here’s what you can expect from hiking up a flight or two every day.

Benefits of Stair Climbing

Lengthens lifespan

One study found that people who performed better while climbing four flights of stairs were less at risk of dying from any cause (2). Another found that people who climbed at least five flights of stairs per day had a lower risk of all-cause and cancer-specific mortality (3).

It also appears the more stairs you climb the lower your risk. A study that followed 8,874 men over a 12-year period found that men who climbed at least 35 floors per week were 16 percent less likely to die from any cause than those who climbed fewer than 10 floors weekly (4).

What’s more, stair climbing had more benefits than walking. Men who averaged eight flights of stairs a day had a 33 percent lower mortality rate than sedentary men, while those who walked an average of 1.3 miles a day had only a 22 percent lower risk.

Improves metabolic health

One of the biggest perks of hitting the stairs is its ability to upgrade metabolic health seemingly across the board. Stair climbing may protect against metabolic syndrome, according to a study published in BMC Public Health (5). Taking the stairs daily was associated with lower body weight, blood pressure, and risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Boosts cardiovascular fitness

If thinking about taking the stairs gets you winded, there’s good reason. Climbing the stairs can improve your VO2 max, a metric widely known as the best indicator of cardiovascular endurance and aerobic performance. One study found that short bouts of stair climbing improved sedentary office workers’ predictive VO2 max by 9.4 percent in eight weeks (6).

Strengthens lower body

Climbing the stairs activates the big muscle groups of your lower body, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and adductors along with your core and arms provided you don’t hold onto the railing. Because they get your body working on multiple levels, they challenge your lower body strength in ways walking on even ground doesn’t.

Strengthens bones

Climbing the stairs is one of the best exercises you can do for bone health per the National Institutes of Health. Why? Climbing vertically requires you to work against gravity, which challenges your muscles and bones to work harder, which ultimately makes them stronger. Plus, climbing stairs can increase your heart rate as much as jogging or running on flat ground, while placing less impact on your bones and joints.

Improves stability and balance

Because taking the stairs requires balancing on one leg and changing levels all at once, your core, lower back, and small muscles in your ankles and hips will fight to keep you stable with each step. Overtime, climbing stairs can help you build stability and balance. One study noted that the ability to climb stairs well reduces the risk of falling, and can reduce the perceived strain of daily activities in older adults (7).