I work from home in a small office up one flight of stairs from the main floor of our house.
So I'm constantly going up and down the stairs for bathroom breaks, lunch, or just to stretch my legs. I'll even make up reasons to go up and down the stairs just so I can burn a few extra calories!
But I often find myself wondering: How many calories does climbing one flight of stairs actually burn?
My office is up one flight of about 13 steps, but yours might be up 100 stairs or even 1000 stairs. Obviously, burning those calories is a much better workout than standing on an elevator or escalator, but how good of a workout is it really?
It's probably less than you think...
Let's find out! (And scroll down for a nifty calculator that will tell you almost exactly how many calories you burn every time you take the stairs).
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How to calculate calories burned climbing stairs
To figure out how many calories we burn on the stairs, we have to know one simple value: the MET, or Metabolic Equivalent of Task.
The MET isn't specific to climbing stairs; it's just a general value for any physical activity that measures how much energy it takes to do it in terms of metabolic rate and oxygen consumption.
The simplest reference point for MET is this: Sitting quietly is 1 MET; more or less the resting metabolic rate, and 1 MET is equal to burning about 1 kcal per kg of bodyweight per hour.
Here are some other METs for reference:
- Sleeping = .9 MET (lowest)
- Writing/Typing = 1.5 MET
- Slow walking = 2.3 MET
- Fast walking = 2.9 MET
- Sex! = 5.8 MET
- Jogging = 7.0 MET
- Sprinting = 23 MET (highest)
To turn METs into calories burned, the formula is really simple:
Calories burned = METs x Weight (kg) x Time (hours)
Climbing stairs has a MET of about 4, so if you know about how long it takes you to climb a set of stairs, you can easily figure out how many calories you burn doing so.
Example: How many calories do I burn climbing one flight of stairs?**
Math! Let's do it:
Let's say you weight 150 pounds, and you want to know how many calories you burn from climbing one normal sized flight of stairs: about 13 steps or so.
First, we need to convert your weight to kilograms:
1 lb = 0.453592 kg -> 150 lbs = 68 kg
Now we need the time spent doing the activity:
I just timed this out myself, actually, and at a normal pace, it took me about 7 or 8 seconds to climb 13 stairs.
8 seconds = 8/60 of a minute = 0.13 minutes = 0.13/60 of an hour = .002222 hours
Now let's use our formula to find out how many calories we burn climbing one flight of stairs:
Calories burned = METS (4) x Weight (68kg) x Time (.00222 hours)
Calories burned climbing one flight of stairs = .6
There you have it. The average person will burn somewhere between half a calorie and one calorie climbing a normal sized flight of stairs.
That really doesn't sound like a lot, but remember, that's only 7 or 8 seconds worth of work! And it's 4 times what you would have burned just sitting on your bum.
**This is just a rough estimate based on the available information.
Here are some quick calculations that might make you feel better
Again, these are based on a 150 pound person... If you weigh more, you'll burn more calories climbing stairs:
- Calories burned climbing 100 stairs: 4.6
- Calories burned climbing 150 stairs: 6.9
- Calories burned climbing 1000 stairs: 46
- Calories burned climbing stairs for 10 minutes: 45.3
- Calories burned climbing stairs for 30 minutes: 136
Walking up the stairs is just the beginning! You can also jog, run, or carry stuff up stairs to burn more calories.
You can plug the following MET values into our handy formula to figure out how changing your approach to stair climbing will increase your calorie burn. Give it a try!
- Carrying 1 to 15 lb = 5 MET
- Carrying 16 to 24 lb = 6 MET
- Carrying 25 to 49 lb = 8 MET
- Climbing stairs quickly = 8.8 MET
- Running up stairs = 15 MET
Example: A 150 pound person running up one normal flight of stairs (should take about 3 seconds) will burn roughly .85 calories.
Oh my God, I can't math anymore! Just give me the calculator, will ya?
Sure! Here's a simple calculator for how many calories you burn climbing stairs.
Just put in your weight in pounds, how fast you're going up the stairs, and for roughly how long, and viola! The calculator will tell you (roughly) how many calories you'll burn.
And don't forget the formula if you want to experiment with other forms of calorie burning:
Calories burned = METS x Weight (kg) x Time (hours)
It's that simple!
Hope this helps :) And if you find an error with my math, please let me know in the comments below!
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Calories from stairs FAQ
What burns more calories, stairs vs walking?
Going up stairs definitely burns more calories than flat walking, but maybe not as much as you'd think.
Going by the MET values listed above (a simple approximation for the caloric burn of an activity), walking up stairs burns somewhere around 1.5-2 times as many calories as just walking, depending on the speed of each activity.
You can experience this yourself next time you're at the gym. Walk for 10 minutes or so at a moderate clip on the treadmill and take note of the calorie count, then spend 10 minutes on the stair stepper machine and compare the numbers.
(Though calorie counts on cardio machines are known to be pretty inaccurate, you can still get an idea).
Is stair climbing good for weight loss?
The key thing to remember about weight loss is that the primary driver is your net energy, or calories in versus calories out (CICO). There many be other factors, but overall if you eat in a calorie deficit on a consistent basis, you will lose weight.
Climbing stairs, whether in long stretches at the gym on a machine, or just taking the stairs every once in a while vs the elevator, can help you increase your overall energy burned throughout the day.
If you're on top of your eating and nutrition, climbing stairs can help you maintain a solid calorie deficit and help promote weight loss.
It's important to note that just walking up stairs won't burn fat on its own. You have to eat properly for that to happen, but exercise will definitely help you along. It's also really great for your overall health and fitness, which is even more important than weight loss.
Is going up and down stairs bad for your knees?
On the contrary, climbing stairs can actually help build the muscles around the knee that help stabilize it, as well as strengthening some of the ligaments and cartilage in the area. Stairs are on of the recommended rehab activities for bad knees.
Though you should consult your doctor if you have specific joint or knee issues, because too much stair climbing could exacerbate certain problems.
It's also important that if you have achey knees that you avoid climbing or going down stairs too fast. A nice slow clip is going to be much lower impact and far better at protecting and rebuilding your knee area.
How many stairs per flight?
It really all depends, and it especially depends on the style of building you're in. (Stairs in tall office building or underground subway platforms, for example, can be quite long).
But in most standard residential buildings, a flight of stairs will usually have 12 or 13 steps.