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Stairway to fitness

health and fitness Updated: Oct 10, 2009 17:03 IST
Heath Matthews
Heath Matthews
Hindustan Times
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I am 57 years old, 5’ 9” inches tall and weigh 68 kg. I live on the 10th floor and climb down the stairs 2-3 times a day and climb up once a day. I also jog and take a brisk 5-km walk daily. Since I am diabetic, my doctor has warned me about taking the stairs, but I can climb up to the 8th floor without a break, after which I take a minute’s rest before continuing. Is it harmful for me to take the stairs? Last week, I went to the Vaishno Devi shrine on foot (29 km in all) without a problem.
L. K. Chawla, Gurgaon

I think your doctors warn you against taking the steps for good reason, but a little more explanation may be helpful. Diabetes can affect organs like your heart so it is important not to push your heart rate above a certain number of beats per minute (bpm). The rule of thumb is 220 bpm minus your age. In your case, that is about 163 bpm. I’m sure your doctor is just concerned that you may be straining your heart when you climb 10 flights of stairs. My suggestion is to look out for telltale signs that your body is under excessive strain. These include dizziness, nausea, a tingling sensation on your face or blurry vision. They’re indicators that you may be over-exerting or that vital parts of your body, like the brain, aren’t getting enough blood supply.

You haven’t said anything about your blood pressure. That might be another reason why your doctors want you to be cautious. If you have high blood pressure you may be at risk of elevating it during exercise. I personally think that exercise is a great, natural way to help fight hypertension (elevated blood pressure) but again, remember the 163 bpm thumb rule.

Finally, diabetes is also associated with poor healing and circulation of blood to your arms and legs. This means that if you have a fall on those steps and get hurt, you may have difficulty healing. My advice to you would be to take things easy a bit, and take the elevator on the way down. Walking down stairs is not nearly as beneficial as walking up and is more dangerous, as we tend to walk down quicker, risking a fall.

As long as you don’t experience any of the symptoms I asked you to watch out for, and your heart rate stays below 163 bpm during your climb, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your routine. I like the fact that you walk regularly and would encourage you to keep it up. I suggest that you take up yoga besides the walking as a way to maintain flexibility, which we tend to lose as we get older. Keep looking after your fitness and your body will serve you well!