This simple test can indicate if your heart is healthy, study says

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New research suggests an easy way to examine heart health could be as simple as taking the stairs.

Findings presented at the EACVI – Best of Imaging 2020, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), showed that the ability to climb four flights of stairs in less than a minute indicates good heart health, according to a Dec. 11 press release from the ESC.

“The stairs test is an easy way to check your heart health,” said study author Dr. Jesús Peteiro, a cardiologist at University Hospital A Coruña, Spain. “If it takes you more than one-and-a-half minutes to ascend four flights of stairs, your health is suboptimal, and it would be a good idea to consult a doctor.”

Researchers sought to examine the relationship between an everyday activity, such as climbing the stairs, and results obtained from an exercise test conducted in a laboratory.

“The idea was to find a simple and inexpensive method of assessing heart health,” Peteiro said. “This can help physicians triage patients for more extensive examinations.”

Patients involved in the study were referred for exercise testing because of diagnosed or suspected coronary artery disease. Participants experienced symptoms including chest pain or shortness of breath during exertion. All 165 of those involved walked or ran on a treadmill, steadily increasing the intensity and continuing until they felt fatigued. Metabolic equivalents (METs) measured exercise capacity. Researchers asked patients to quickly climb four flights of stairs after they rested for up to 20 minutes. Patients couldn’t stop and were asked to move as fast as possible without running as researchers recorded their times.

Researchers found that patients who climbed the stairs in less than 40–45 seconds achieved more than 9–10 METs. Reaching 10 METs during an exercise test is tied to a low morality rate, according to previous studies.

Opposingly, patients who took 1.5 minutes or longer to climb the stairs reached less than 8 METs. The former translates to a mortality rate of 1% or less per year while the latter translates to a mortality rate of 2-4% annually.

When images of the heart, which were taken to evaluate functioning, were compared to the results of the stair test, researchers discovered some 58% of patients who climbed the 60 stairs in more than 1.5 minutes had abnormal heart function during the treadmill exam. Meanwhile, 32% of participants who climbed the stairs in under a minute had abnormal heart function while researchers conducted the same exam.