So your heart pounds like a demon every time you walk up a flight of stairs?

First of all, make sure that a cardiologist finds nothing wrong with your heart.

The doctor must clear you for a form of exercise called interval training, because this will likely cure you of that frightening racing heart that occurs every time you go up a flight of stairs.

The assumption is that you’re healthy, no heart rhythm abnormalities or other cardiac dysfunctions, but that you’re just very out of shape.

What you don’t realize is that your deconditioned body can’t tell the difference between sprinting across a parking lot in the rain and walking up a staircase; that’s how out of shape you are.

Whereas you won’t be as alarmed if your heart races after that parking lot sprint, it scares the heck out of you when it occurs in response to climbing a flight of stairs.

There’s a simple solution to this problem: interval training – using the very steps that seem to curse your heart.

“Stair climbing is a form of exercise anyone can do in their own home,” says Martin Gibala, a kinesiology professor at McMaster University who’s been studying interval training for 10 years.

The more exact term is sprint interval training, in which “sprint” refers to an all-out or almost-all-out effort of going up a staircase—but for only a very brief period.

The Protocol
• Three, 20 second “sprints” up stairs with a short rest in between.

• If you can’t run up the stairs for 20 nonstop seconds, or run up and down a shorter staircase for the 20 seconds, then walk some or all of this time—but make it as fast a walk as possible.

• Do this three times a week.

• A variation is to repeat this but go for 60 second intervals (with short rests in between).

• A longer interval will necessitate a less strenuous effort, but it should still be enough to make you very out of breath at the end.

• After six weeks there should be a substantial improvement in your heart rate and the way you feel after going up a staircase casually; a casual climb, such as what you might do at the workplace or around the house to simply get from the first floor to the second, should no longer madly race your heart.

• There will be an elevated pulse, of course, but if you stick to this protocol, you’ll notice a marked improvement.

In Gibala’s latest study, the participants (all out of shape but otherwise healthy) experienced increased cardiorespiratory fitness.

The report is in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2017).

Don’t Make this Mistake
Don’t assume interval training is useless because you “already go up and down your staircase a hundred times a day.”

Interval training must be premeditated and structured. Its benefits do not come from the random, incidental use of stairs when you’re focused on transporting your body rather than working it out.

Set a time slot aside three times a week to do those three 20 second or 60 second intervals—and go all out or almost all out. These are exercise intervals, not transport intervals. This exercise will teach your heart to be more efficient and not race so much.