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Walking Downstairs May Lower Your Blood Sugar MORE than Walking Upstairs

July 11, 2016

You can imagine! I’m going to a mall over the 4th of July weekend and it’s sweltering hot outside. I’m with my nephew and niece and we’re going to check out school supplies. The mall is massive. At the top of the escalator it says, “Walk Down the Stairs and Take Your Blood Sugar Down With You.” Whoa! Medical literature published in the mall. I’m all over it.

The information was obtained from a referenced study published a decade ago at the American Heart Association Meetings. The researcher, Dr. Drexel, took 45 sedentary, otherwise non-diabetic adults and had them spend two months taking the ski lift up, then riding it down. Then they spent two months hiking up and taking the ski lift down. They measured compliance by collecting ticket stubs and the personal diary of each volunteer. It was not done every day but suggested as three to five times a week. That’s pretty good exercise.

Walking down uses muscles differently. Walking uphill uses muscles in a “concentric” fashion whereas walking down is considered “eccentric”. Eccentric is lengthening under load (walking down hill – resisting as you stretch out your legs). Concentric is shortening under load (walking up hill – resisting as you shorten your leg muscles). Did you get that? They are different types of load on your muscles.

The original research on eccentric versus concentric was done back in 1882, but it wasn’t till 2003 that the best demonstration of the power difference was obtained. A contracting muscle under stretch (eccentric), can produce much greater power than a contacting muscle being lengthened (concentric – walking uphill). You can demonstrate that by putting two exercise bikes facing each other with one chain so that one person is biking forward while the other is resisting and pedaling backwards. A big, burly, strong male can easily be resisted by a much smaller, less muscled woman. That’s the power of that difference.

The intriguing detail is that the two types of exercise use different fuel sources. Walking downhill uses glucose. Walking uphill uses fat.

WWW – What will work for me? No one wants to affect just one type of fuel but if you are into the details, this matters. Building muscle works a lot better when you are resisting. You may not be able to lift a weight up, but you can lower it to the ground. It’s not the gravity effect, it’s the lengthening effect of your muscles. So, walking down the stairs allows you to go get ice-cream. Walking up, get some bacon.

John E. Whitcomb, M.D. is founder and medical director of Brookfield Longevity & Healthy Living Clinic. He is a Yale University School of Medicine graduate and is board certified in holistic and integrative medicine from Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine.

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