And everyday tasks that provide a short cardio burst, like climbing stairs and taking out the trash, make a big difference in your overall health.

From HIIT workouts to running half-marathons, there are many intense forms of exercise you can consider, and while there are certainly health benefits to doing strength and circuit training, new research reveals that one of the best things we can do for our health is exercise in short spurts. And those quick cardio sessions don't even have to be done at the gym: You can reach your cardio goals by doing ordinary activities, such as taking out the household trash, parking further away from a building, climbing stairs, and walking small distances.

woman exercising on stairs outdoors
Credit: filadendron / Getty Images

"A lot of people think you need to go to the gym and have long bouts of continuous exercise, but you can be active without going to the gym," said Chris Moore, a PhD student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "And that's more feasible for a lot more people, especially those like the participants in this study who were older women. Older adults have a lot of barriers to doing more structured exercise."

This particular study used data from 16,732 participants in the Women's Health Study (a national study focused on disease prevention), who wore an accelerometer, which is a device that captures movement, for four to seven days between 2011 and 2015. The participants in the study were all over the age of 60 and were mostly non-Hispanic white women. Based on the results of this study, the women who took more steps in short spurts lived longer.

In a separate study, a team of researchers from McMaster University recently found that stair-climbing routines provided significant cardiovascular and muscular benefits for heart patients. This doesn't necessarily mean that you should climb the stair master at your local gym, though that certainly will help. Even things like taking the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator while shopping or going to the office will provide the same benefits and improve your heart health. "We've shown stair-climbing is a safe, efficient and feasible option for cardiac rehabilitation, which is particularly relevant during the pandemic when many people don't have the option to exercise in a gym," said Maureen MacDonald, one of the lead researchers on both studies and a professor in McMaster's Department of Kinesiology.

Experts say that the most important thing you can do for your health is continuing to get your heart rate up regularly throughout the day.


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