Take the Stairs to Stay Fit and Healthy

Don't Skip the Steps

woman taking the Stairs

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How much does it help to take the stairs rather than ride the escalator or elevator? Can a few more flights of stairs each day make a difference for fitness and obesity?


Here are some facts on how many calories a 160-pound person burns taking the stairs:

  • 1.6 calories per minute standing on an escalator or in an elevator, one-third of the calories expended by taking the stairs at a slow pace.
  • 2 calories for one flight of 12 steps, about 0.17 calories per step climbed.
  • 4 calories per minute walking down stairs, about the same as walking on flat ground.
  • 5 calories per minute walking slowly upstairs. These are calories they wouldn't burn standing on an escalator or taking an elevator.
  • 11 calories per minute climbing stairs at a fast speed.
  • 11 calories per minute on a stairclimber or stair-treadmill
  • 19 calories per minute running up stairs.
  • Over the course of a year, you might lose over half a pound if your only lifestyle change was taking the stairs for a minute a day.

If you're doing a stair workout, you can use a calories-burned-while-exercising calculator to estimate your burn.

Stair climbing challenges more muscles than walking on level ground or standing. You use your gluteus maximus and hamstrings to climb stairs. These muscles extend the hip. To tone your butt, take the stairs. Some fitness trackers count stairs or floors climbed and will reward you with badges and trophies for stair climbing.

Drawbacks of Eliminating Stairs

With an aging population, single-story homes and homes with the master bedroom on the main level are becoming more desirable. People want to eliminate stairs from their lives. If you have knee or hip osteoarthritis, you probably avoid stairs.

Unless you have existing joint problems, it is good to challenge your muscles and joints each day. Living in a two-story house is a built-in fitness program.

A task such as carrying groceries up a flight of stairs burns more than twice the calories as carrying them on level ground.

But if you have any joint problems you may want to avoid carrying loads up and down stairs. It's great to have the laundry room on the same level as the bedrooms, and the kitchen on the same level as the entry. You can still get the benefit of stairs when you aren't carrying extra weight up and down.

How to Encourage Taking the Stairs

Several studies have looked at the best way to encourage people to take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator at shopping malls and in workplaces. Messages on the stair risers were one tactic found to be effective. In general, having the message at the point where people would make the decision to take the stairs vs. elevator or escalator is effective.

Making Stairs Friendly

Stairs need to be conveniently located, not hidden away and poorly marked. Do they feel like a lonely, scary place, or a safe, well-lit, frequently-used environment? Architects, designers and building management all have a role in making stairwells more walker-friendly in office buildings, schools, hospitals, and government buildings.

This is the consideration of active design. Once in the stairwell, it may be poorly cleaned, with little climate control. It's no wonder people just wait for the elevator.

Small Steps Add Up

Taking the stairs is merely one small step. You need to add other small changes to be more active and eat a better diet in order to stay fit and healthy. The biggest step can be achieving the recommended exercise levels for healthy persons—30 minutes a day of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, five days a week, plus strength exercise two days a week

Adding Stairs to Your Workouts

Adding stairs to your walking workout is a great way to add intervals of more-intense exercise. Stair climbing will raise your heart rate and will tone your butt and the backs of your thighs. These are good additions to a workout.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bellicha A, Kieusseian A, Tataranni A, Charreire H, Oppert JM. Stair-use Interventions in Worksites and Public Settings - a Systematic Review of Effectiveness and External Validity. Preventive Medicine. 2015 Jan;70:3-13. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.11.001.

  2. StepJockey. Twenty amazing stair climbing facts.

  3. CaptainCalculatorⓒ. Calories burned on stairs calculator.

  4. Ruff RR, Rosenblum R, Fischer S, Meghani H, Adamic J, Lee KK. Associations between building design, point-of-decision stair prompts, and stair use in urban worksites. Prev Med. 2014;60:60-64. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2013.12.006

  5. Mansi IA, Mansi N, Shaker H, Banks D. Stair Design in the United States and Obesity: The Need for a Change. Southern Medical Journal. 2009 June;102(6):610-614. doi:10.1097/SMJ.0b013e3181a4f67a

Additional Reading

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.