When you return home from work this evening, ditch the elevator and climb up the stairs to your apartment. Better still, put down your bag and go up and down a few times before finally entering your home.

Actor Akshay Kumar does this almost daily. The Khiladi, who prefers “natural workouts” to gymming, used to the climb 50 flights of stairs twice daily to get in shape for the film Boss. During the month-long shoot of Singh is King in Australia in 2007, he would climb to his room on the topmost floor of the 80-storey Q1 residential tower at Gold Coast every night.

Madonna too opts for a stair-athon when she’s on tour. These celebs realize what many of us don’t: Giving up a small luxury like the lift can help one get a good cardio workout anywhere, anytime and at no cost.

Studies have established that stair-climbing helps burn more calories per minute than jogging. A 54-kg person walking upstairs for 30 minutes uses up 220 calories, compared to only 190 calories burned during 30 minutes of high-impact aerobics.

Researchers in Canada found that stair-climbing is twice as strenuous as brisk walking and weight-lifting. Moreover, one attains “peak exertion” much sooner while climbing stairs than walking, which is why most people huff and puff when climbing up.

Stair-climbing is particularly useful for those aiming for a slimmer bottom half as multiple muscles in the lower body – including quadriceps, calves, glutes, hips and hamstrings – are used with each step you take. The leg bones also become stronger and denser as they bear the body’s weight while going against gravity.

This is not all. Stair-climbing reduces blood sugar levels and improves lung capacity and heart health. Doctors say stair-climbing for just 10 minutes, thrice a day can make your heart much stronger, enabling it to deliver oxygen-enriched blood to your muscle fibers. This improves overall health and energy levels.

Perhaps that’s why Harvard professor Dr. Harvey Simons has dubbed stairs “one of the best-kept secrets in preventive medicine.”

But before you charge to the stairway, seek clearance from your doctor. People with a knee problem are advised against stair-climbing as it can aggravate the condition. You should also progress slowly. Climb for just five or 10 minutes on day 1 and gradually increase the duration till you can manage 30 minutes daily – this is the ideal duration.

So start climbing and get healthier!

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