Stair-climbing machine, last positionCardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States yet many of the associated risk factors are preventable. Controlling for certain risk factors such as obesity , lack of physical activity, and smoking could significantly reduce the prevalence of the disease.

Regular physical activity not only directly reduces your cardiovascular risk, it can also favorably affect your other risk factors, including blood pressure , cholesterol profile , glucose levels, and weight. In addition, making exercise a regular part of your lifestyle will help improve your overall cardiovascular fitness, making the system operate more efficiently. It can also boost your energy level and enhance your self-esteem.

Aerobic Exercise

Research has shown that aerobic exercise of any nature—lasting 20-30 minutes—will improve cardiovascular fitness levels. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests 20 to 60 minutes of continuous aerobic activity on most days of the week. They outline three stages for the establishment of a new exercise program:

  1. Initial stage: Begin with 12-15 minutes of exercise and over time increase to 20 minutes. Exercise 3 times a week on non-consecutive days. This stage lasts 4-6 weeks. (Someone who is severely deconditioned may have to begin with less than 10 minutes at a time, several times throughout the day.)
  2. Second stage: Increase the intensity level and also increase the duration every 2-3 weeks until you reach 20-30 minutes of continuous exercise. This stage usually lasts 4-5 months.
  3. Maintenance stage: Set new, higher goals for exercise duration, intensity, and frequency. This stage usually begins after six months of training.

Typical aerobic exercises include the following:

  • Stair-climbing
  • Brisk walking
  • Hiking
  • Aerobics
  • Running
  • Bicycling
  • Rowing
  • Swimming
  • Circuit weight training
  • Racquet sports

Read on to find out more about stair-climbing.


Climbing stairs is a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness because you can incorporate it throughout your day while at home, running errands, or at the gym on a stair-climbing machine. This will allow you to collectively expend extra calories throughout the day while strengthening your thigh muscles, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calf muscles.

Calories Expended During Stair-climbing
Activity135 lb. Woman185 lb. Man
Climbing for 20 min.130 calories178 calories
Climbing for 30 min.194 calories266 calories

A note of caution: When coming down a flight of stairs remember to place your foot on a slight angle (in terms of foot placement on the step) so your knees do not go too far over your toes.

Exercise Technique for Using a Stair-climber

Woman on a stair-climbing machine, showing motion
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Starting Position:

  • Stand up tall with your hands resting lightly on the handrails.
  • Keep feet on pedals. Do not let your heels hang off the back of the step and remember to push through the heel while doing the movement. Do not stay up on your toes.
  • If you have problems with your balance, hold on to the side rails or other area on the machine designed as a place for your hands. In doing so, it is important to maintain good posture. Do not lean over or stick out your buttocks while performing this exercise; this will place undue pressure on the low back.


  • Choose a comfortable stepping pace, usually 6 to 8-inch steps or 8 to 12- inch steps depending on your fitness level and leg strength. There is no way to actually set the step height on a particular machine, just estimate the height.
  • Do not use small baby steps or deep exaggerated steps while performing the exercise; find a step size that feels comfortable.
  • Work at an intensity that promotes sweating but enables you to carry on a conversation.


Begin with two sessions per week of stair-climbing. Following a 5-8 minute gradual warm-up begin with low intensity stair-climbing for 10-15 minutes. Add five minutes (when able) per week. After three weeks, progress to three times per week for 20-30 minutes at a moderate intensity.

After each workout, stretch the hip flexors, thigh, hamstrings, and your calf muscles. Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds.

If you have cardiovascular disease, consult with your physician before starting any exercise program.