Stair climbing feels more difficult than walking, but the benefits are the same.
Kane Skennar/Photodisc/Getty Images
One way to choose your workout is by the direction of movement. You can move vertically with stair climbing or horizontally with walking. Both are aerobic exercises that increase your heart and breathing rates to burn calories, increase your endurance and improve your cardiovascular system. You can easily incorporate one or both exercises into your day with similar results.
The goal of aerobic exercise is to elevate your heart and breathing rates. Along with this, comes a slight increase in blood pressure during the workout. According to the a study performed at the Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center at the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Maryland, stair climbing and walking elicit different heart rate responses. Ten patients performed both exercises and the results, published in the March 1995 issue of Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, report that stair climbing had a lower heart rate and blood pressure response than walking, which makes it a good exercise for those with cardiovascular disease limitations.
The glutes contract during stair climbing and walking, but at different intensities. The function of your glutes is to extend your hip. When you climb stairs, the glutes are strengthened each time you shift your weight to one foot and straighten your leg to ascend the step. When this happens, one cheek supports your entire bodyweight for an intense toning workout. Compare this to walking, in which the glutes contract as you extend your leg behind you to propel you forward. During walking, both feet remain on the ground, so one cheek does not have to support all your bodyweight.
Look At Those Legs
Both walking and stair climbing use your hamstrings at the back of your thighs, your quadriceps at the front of your thighs and your calves -- the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles that control your ankle movements. The quadriceps contract when you extend your knee to place your foot on the ground when walking and during stair climbing when you straighten your leg. The hamstrings contract when you bend your knee picking up your foot to move forward when walking or lifting up to the next step. Your tibialis anterior on your shins contracts to lift your toes when walking. In addition, when stair climbing, your erector spinae, the muscle on both sides of your spine, contract to keep your torso in an upright position.
The Magic Number
Usually, one of the main goals for aerobic exercise is to burn calories. Here's where the big difference is between stair climbing and walking. The effort required to climb stairs and move vertically uses more calories than walking. According to Tufts Medical Center, if you weigh 185 pounds, you burn approximately 224 to 336 calories in 20 to 30 minutes of stair climbing. In contrast, that same person would burn between 165 and 247 calories walking at an intense rate of 4 m.p.h. for 20 to 30 minutes, according to the ExRx.net calories burned calculator.