If You Can’t Do This in a Minute, Your Heart Is in Danger, Study Says

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As all of us get older, keeping an eye on the health of our heart becomes increasingly important. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out, “Heart disease can happen at any age, but the risk goes up as you age.” But how do you know if you’re at risk when many traditional methods for accurately measuring heart health involve expensive or time-consuming procedures, or the oversight of medical professionals? Well, there’s one test that you can do at home and it should only take a minute. In fact, if it takes much more than that, you’re in trouble. Keep reading to find out how new research from the European Society of Cardiology says you can use your stairs to test your heart health.

Anyone with a healthy heart should be able to climb four flights of stairs in 45 seconds.

The new research, which was presented in Dec. 2020 at EACVI–Best of Imaging 2020, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), shows that all you need to test the health of your heart is a stopwatch and a few flights of stairs.

The study looked at 165 symptomatic patients who were prescribed exercise testing because of known or suspected coronary artery disease. After a strenuous bout of exercise, the subjects rested for 15 to 20 minutes, and then they were asked to quickly climb four flights of stairs (about 60 stairs) without taking a break, but also without running. Their time was recorded and their exercise capacity was measured as metabolic equivalents (METs), which is defined as the amount of oxygen consumed while resting.

What the researchers found was that patients who climbed the stairs in less than 40 to 45 seconds achieved more than 9 to 10 METs, a rate that’s linked to lower mortality. “The stairs test is an easy way to check your heart health,” study author Jesús Peteiro, MD, a cardiologist at University Hospital A Coruña, Spain, said in a statement. And for more on how to know your heart could be in trouble.

If it takes you longer than 90 seconds, you need to talk to your doctor.

“If it takes you more than one-and-a-half minutes to ascend four flights of stairs, your health is suboptimal, and it would be a good idea to consult a doctor,” Peteiro said. That’s because, in the research, patients who took 90 seconds or longer to climb the stairs achieved less than 8 METs, which translates to a mortality rate of 2 to 4 percent per year, or 30 percent in a decade.

The researchers also generated images of the patients’ hearts during the exercise test to assess their cardiac function. Among patients who took 90 seconds or more during the stair climb, 58 percent had abnormal heart function, while just 32 percent of those who climbed the stairs in less than a minute could say the same.

Your heart attack risk spikes younger than you think.

The statistics on heart health are sobering to say the least. Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women in the United States, accounting for 1 in 4 deaths in the country, the CDC says.

And don’t think that it’s just something seniors need to worry about—for men, the risk of a heart attack increases significantly after the age of 45, and for women, the danger ramps up from the age of 50, according to the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute.

And nearly half of heart attacks are “silent.”

According to a 2016 study from the American Heart Association (AHA), 45 percent of all heart attacks in the U.S. are “silent,” meaning they occur without symptoms, which is why it’s important to keep up on your heart health. To reach this conclusion, the researchers behind the AHA study analyzed the records of 9,498 middle-age adults with atherosclerosis—or hardening of the arteries—for more than two decades. Not only did silent heart attacks account for nearly half of the incidents they recorded, but they also made patients three times more likely to die from heart disease.

“The outcome of a silent heart attack is as bad as a heart attack that is recognized while it is happening,” the study’s senior author Elsayed Z. Soliman, MD, then-director of the epidemiological cardiology research center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said in a statement. “And because patients don’t know they have had a silent heart attack, they may not receive the treatment they need to prevent another one.”

Additionally, there’s further bad news for women and minorities, according to the study’s findings. “Women with a silent heart attack appear to fare worse than men,” Soliman said. “Our study also suggests that Blacks may fare worse than whites, but the number of Blacks may have been too small to say that with certainty.”

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