Lack of time and no access to fitness equipment are two of the most common responses given by people who do not exercise. Researchers at McMaster University and Queens University, in Ontario, have released a report suggesting a workaround to those responses. The scientists have found that very short bouts of stair climbing can help people get in better shape.

In this study, the researchers wanted to understand how stair climbing—an exercise available to most people—can improve fitness levels. They also hoped to discern the minimum time investment required to see improvements.

For 6 weeks, 12 female participants aged 15—37 with BMIs in the 21—27 range completed three training sessions per week. The sessions lasted 10 minutes and included a 2–minute warm–up; three rounds of 20–second stair climbs—participants were instructed to climb as fast as possible—with 2 minutes of recovery between rounds; and a 3–minute cool–down following the final climb.

Each participant climbed an average of 59 stairs during each round, achieving 77%—85% of maximum heart rate. While body mass did not change, VO2peak and VO2max both improved.

"Brief, intense intermittent bursts of stair climbing, involving only 3 minutes
of 'all–out' exercise within a 30–minute time commitment per week, increased cardiorespiratory fitness by ˜1 metabolic equivalent over 6 weeks," said the authors. "This change is similar to that previously reported after laboratory–based sprint interval training protocols of similar duration, and traditional endurance training involving a much higher exercise volume and time commitment."

The study was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2016; 48 [5S], 609).