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Research Found the Quickest, Least Painful Way to Up Your Cardio

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What are your most common reasons for missing your workout? Too busy? No money for a gym? No equipment? Too complicated? Too hard? We have good news—and not only do you not need to buy anything from an infomercial, but there's hard science showing it really works. What is this miracle workout? It's as simple as going up stairs.

Doing just a few minutes a day of intense stair-climbing offers many of the same heart-healthy benefits as taking a class at the gym or jogging around the block, according to a new study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. And you don't even need a fancy stair-climber machine—any old staircase will do.

Researchers recruited healthy but sedentary women to run up and down a staircase for short bursts—the first group did three sets of 20-second stair-climbing and a second group ran up and down the stairs for 60 seconds. Including a brief warm-up and cool-down, the women spent less than 10 minutes a day (about 30 minutes per week, total), exercising. Yet even though they worked out very little, they still experienced significant cardiovascular and respiratory improvements, the researchers found.

It may sound too good to be true, but there's a lot of science to support this type of short-but-intense training. The secret? Stair-climbing is a particularly effective form of interval training. High-intensity interval workouts have been a fitness darling for decades, offering a wide variety of health benefits. But previous research has tested interval training on equipment like treadmills or stationary bikes—which is great, if you have them. This new study, however, proves that the ordinary staircase going down to your basement or behind your office is every bit as good, not to mention way cheaper and easier to get to.

Finding an hour to go to the gym, change, wait for equipment, exercise, shower, and drive home again is daunting for many people. But who doesn't have two minutes to take a quick sprint up the stairs in between laundry trips?

"Stair-climbing is a form of exercise anyone can do in their own home, after work, or during the lunch hour," said Martin Gibala, Ph.D., lead author and a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University, in a press release. "Interval training offers a convenient way to fit exercise into your life, rather than having to structure your life around exercise."

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