Scared of Stairs?
Updated: May 28
Should you have stairs in your home as you age? The answer is: it depends!
Stair climbing helps to maintain leg strength and power as we get older and can also be a great way to improve your overall endurance. They are essentially a piece of built-in exercise equipment for your home and therefore can be very beneficial! However, there are some inherent risks as well, so this article will address both to provide you with comprehensive information.
BENEFITS OF STAIRS:
1. Stair climbing improves leg strength and power
When left untreated, people lose muscle mass and strength with each decade after 30. Strength training is often one aspect of exercise that aging adults overlook, but it is important to train major muscle groups at least 2 times every week (according to the CDC’s recommended exercise guidelines). Maintaining muscle mass helps to reduce falls because it improves our balance and stability; that is, we are more likely to catch ourselves rather than experience a complete fall. The stronger and more powerful your legs are, the more they will be able to protect your bones and joints from more serious injuries like fractures. Stair climbing is an excellent way to build and maintain strength in your larger leg muscles- quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Going up and down stairs engages all of these muscles!
2. Stair climbing improves cardiovascular endurance
If you have ever tried the Stair Master at the gym, you will know that it increases your heart rate very quickly. Cardiovascular endurance refers to how our heart and lungs function during exercise. Stair climbing is a great way to improve your overall endurance; as mentioned before, its a built-in Stair Master! Climbing your stairs at home several times a day will translate into making your tolerance for other every day activities that require endurance easier as well, such as standing, walking, and exercising in general.
3. Stair climbing improves balance and stability
The act of going up and down stairs involves shifting weight onto one leg to lift the other leg. This requires a good amount of balance and stability in order to avoid falling over! These two factors are also important in reducing the risk of falling and tend to improve naturally as our leg strength improves. Of course, using a handrail can help if you need some assistance from your upper body, however, try not to pull yourself up the stairs with your arms. Instead, use the handrail as a guide and gradually practice stair climbing without it for maximum improvements in balance!
4. Stair climbing improves bone density
Higher impact activities, such as stair climbing, help maintain bone density as we age. This is especially important for post-menopausal women who can experience a larger decrease in their bone density, which puts them more at risk for fractures if they fall.
RISKS OF STAIRS:
1. Falls and other injuries
Hundreds of thousands of people require medical treatment from a stair-related accident every year. It can be easy to slip when going down stairs, or trip going up the stairs. One of the most common ways to fracture a hip is to fall on it sideways. Before you think about the need to move into a single-story home, consider making a few modifications to your current environment to ensure your safety around the stairs. Here are some ideas:
- Install adequate lighting in the stairwell (at the top and bottom of the stairs)
- Install handrails on one or both sides of the stairs
- If you have non-carpeted stairs, apply non-slip adhesives to each step
- If you have carpeted stairs, ensure the carpet is in good condition, or replace it with non-slip carpet
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