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Having Trouble with the Stairs? Don’t Just Accept It!

By Claudine Aherne August 25, 2021 Health and Fitness

Do you struggle with steps, stairs or kerbs (especially on the way down)? Would you like to feel stronger, steadier and more confident on stairs, particularly when you’re out and about?

If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

As a specialist exercise instructor for more than 15 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of people who struggle with stairs, steps and kerbs. I’ve worked with them to help them feel stronger, steadier and more confident.

The more people I have helped to become stronger and more confident on the stairs, the more it bothers me when I hear people talking about difficulties with stairs as if they are inevitable.

Will Everyone Have Trouble with Stairs?

When you hear people talking about getting older, you might assume that it’s an inevitable part of ageing to have trouble with the stairs. You would be forgiven for thinking that, sooner or later, we will all need to move to an apartment or single-storey home. Or that we should start saving now for a chair lift.

Yes, we do naturally lose some muscle mass and strength as we get older. As a result, the stairs might feel a little more challenging. But we can build our muscles, get stronger and improve our balance at any age. And that means ANY AGE – studies have shown significant increases in leg strength for people in their 90s doing a progressive exercise programme.

Of course, some medical conditions will make the stairs too hard or not safe. In these instances, we should undoubtedly ensure we can continue to live safely and independently. That could mean installing a lift or stairlift or moving to more suitable accommodation.

However, most people who end up having difficulty with the stairs do so due to disuse, not disease.

Use It or Lose It

If we don’t challenge our muscles and make them work, they won’t be strong enough to do what we ask of them, like climbing the stairs.

It’s not even our fault. When we first start finding the stairs hard, we think it’s normal. We’ve been told that’s what happens when we get older. So, we accept it.

Whereas we should be taking those initial signs of difficulty as prompts to get to work. To start or continue exercising, push ourselves a bit, and work our muscles more (all without overdoing it, of course).

Why Do Stairs Matter So Much?

Staying safe on the stairs is crucial. Trips and falls anywhere can be horrible, but the consequences of a fall on the stairs can be even more awful.

Even if we never actually fall on the stairs, the fear of doing so can be almost as damaging.

We shouldn’t be fearful of everyday activities like going up and down the stairs. We want to feel confident that we can go out and about, and if we see a flight of stairs, that’s OK.

Being able to take the stairs confidently is also essential for our confidence and our sense of self.

What Is Your Circle, and How to Stop It from Shrinking

My friend Bob often talks about how our circles start to shrink as we get older. The difficulties people have with stairs can be a perfect example of this.

But what are these shrinking circles? Bob is saying that, as activities (like walking longer distances and stair climbing) become more challenging, the number of places we can go and things we can do diminishes.

Annabel used to go and visit her daughter, Sarah, and grandchildren once a month. She doesn’t drive anymore but was happily taking the train. However, when she started finding the stairs harder, she didn’t want to travel by train anymore – the stairs in the station made her feel too anxious, plus there’s that big step on and off the train.

Sarah can drive up to see her, but they can’t go as often as Annabel would like, with three children and all their school, sporting and social events. Because of her difficulties with the stairs, Annabel’s circle has started to shrink, and she is missing out on her grandchildren.

When your circle starts to shrink, you’re no longer able to go to places, take specific methods of transport or see people you used to enjoy seeing.

I don’t want your circle to shrink, and I don’t want you to start missing out because you’re having trouble with the stairs.

How Can We Improve Our Stair Fitness?

We need strong muscles, stable joints and good balance to stay steady and safe on the stairs.

We can achieve all of these with a good exercise programme. A programme that targets all the muscles in the lower body and works to improve our balance.

Our members have access to a series of exercise videos called Strong & Steady on the Stairs in our online exercise studio. I’m going to share one of the exercises from this video series with you here.

Strong and Steady on the Stairs: Quick Win Exercise

This exercise strengthens some of the muscles which are crucial for safe stair climbing. Do it with me now (you don’t need to change your clothes or have any special equipment):

You Can Do This!

Sometimes exercising seems daunting or too challenging. But don’t let fears or overwhelm stop you. You’ve got this!

Performing a mix of strength and balance exercises helps us feel stronger and more confident on all stairs and steps.

You can get stronger and improve your balance in just 10-15 minutes a day. You get the best results when you’re doing exercises that are right for you (not ones designed for a 25-year-old who can do the splits!).

Make sure that any exercise professional you work with is qualified and experienced. A good instructor encourages you to work at the right pace for you. They demonstrate the movements clearly, so you feel confident doing the exercises.

If you want help and support to exercise at home, look at the Vida Wellness Studio. It’s an online exercise studio for people who wish to improve their balance and posture, feel stronger, and move more easily.

How do you feel coming down steps or stairs? Do you feel confident that you can maintain your stair fitness? Are you fearful that you may fall when climbing the stairs? Join the conversation below!

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I was in a bad accident as a young girl and broke my hip, femur, pelvis and injured my spine. Stairs have been an issue since. In middle school I was often late to class if I had to go down stairs. I have always had to use the hand rail and cannot use stairs while carrying items in my hands. I’ve fallen down stairs so much that my husband gets in front of me when I have to go down stairs. He does this to help catch me. I’m not even 40 yet and struggle with stairs. I used to carry laundry downstairs and would fall. I’ve since had to have my family help me. This scares me as my kids will not always be around to help me take things downstairs. Any ideas that might help?

The Author

Over the last 16 years, Claudine has helped hundreds of people to improve their balance, feel stronger and move more easily. That's why her in-person classes and online programmes have been featured globally, including on BBC Radio 4. Members of her online exercise studio enjoy an extensive library of easy-to-follow videos, as well as advice and support. Try some taster videos from the Vida Wellness Studio.

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