Running up the stairs could add years to your life, research suggests.
Scientists from the University Hospital of Coruna in Spain had more than 4,700 women run on a treadmill until exhausted.
Those who managed the equivalent of quickly walking or running up four flights of stairs were four times less likely to die from heart disease over the next four years. It also halved their risk of dying from cancer, the results show.
“Exercise as much as you can,” lead author Dr Jesus Peteiro said. “Fitness protects against death from any cause.”
A quarter (25%) of people over 16 in England were “physically inactive” in 2017/18, Government statistics show. This is defined as less than half-an-hour of moderate-intensity exercise a week.
In the US, the same number of adults (25.4%) took part in “no leisure time physical activity” last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To learn more about the benefits of exercise, the scientists looked at thousands of middle-aged or elderly women who had been referred for tests due to known or suspected coronary artery disease.
While walking or running on a treadmill of increasing speed, the women’s oxygen “use” was measured.
Those who managed the equivalent of four flights of stairs without stopping - or three flights if walking very quickly - were less likely to die over the average 4.6 year follow-up period.
Just 0.6% of those with this level of fitness died from heart disease each year of the follow up. This is compared to 2.2% of those with worse activity levels.
Exercise is known to help lower blood pressure, bring down cholesterol and keep weight under control.
Results - presented at the European Society of Cardiology in Vienna - also show cancer deaths were 0.9% per year in the “unfit group” compared to 0.4% in those who performed better on the treadmill.
Exercise helps keep certain hormones under control. When these get “out of whack”, cells can divide uncontrollably, leading to tumours.
The rate of death from other causes was 1.4% among the less fit participants and just 0.3% among those who managed “four flights of stairs”.
“Good exercise capacity predicted lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer and other causes,” Dr Peteiro said.
While on the treadmill, scans were taken of the women’s hearts. The scientists found those with poor function in their left ventricle, which pumps blood all over the body, were more likely to die from heart disease, but not other causes.
“Looking at both examinations together, women whose heart works normally during exercise are unlikely to have a cardiovascular event,” Dr Peteiro said.
“But if their exercise capacity is poor, they are still at risk of death from cancer or other causes.
“The best situation is to have normal heart performance during exercise and good exercise capacity.”
With women generally living longer than men, the scientists are calling for more studies that look at the benefits of exercise in female participants.