Building stair-mina in Dubai’s towering concrete gyms

As I approach my desk in the morning, my legs feel wobbly and my heart pounds ten to the dozen. I sit down, wave to my friend – another mum who gets in early – and after I’ve caught my breath, suggest a cup of tea. You might be wondering if I’ve suddenly been afflicted with terrible nerves about work, or more likely the children. But no.

I’ve started climbing the stairs.

Not all the stairs. I work in an office tower, and we’re on the 20th floor. I’m pretty sure I’d collapse if I tried to climb that many stairs. So instead I ride the elevator to floor 16, then scale four floors on foot (which doesn’t sound much at all, but believe me, the vertical rush is a mini cardiac work-out).

Then, about 11am, I set off again – up another four storeys (actually eight flights of stairs), and down again. Funnily, it’s the going down bit that turns the old calf muscles into jelly, especially wearing heels.

Any lovely people who’ve been following this blog for a while will know about my half-hearted attempts to keep fit. There’s the gym (yawn) but it really does bore me (unless I rest my Kindle on the treadmill and read at the same time, which can be done if you go slow enough). There was my Wii-fit phase (you can watch TV if you do the Free Step option), and there was the summer where I discovered scooting and got left behind for dust by my boys.

Stair-climbing definitely worked for these two stick people
Stair-climbing definitely worked for these two stick people

I want to exercise, but it’s a time thing: How on earth do you fit it into a busy day when working full-time and coming home to children who haven’t seen you all day? I see all the mums with their busy little bottoms bouncing into school in tight Lycra, and feel a little envious that they have time to do proper exercise, with personal trainers. And I’m also well aware that it’s all too easy to live a sedentary lifestyle in the UAE – we drive everywhere, and over the hot months, no one walks outdoors.

So when I read about the benefits of stair-climbing, I decided this was it. Time to take advantage of architecture’s gift to time-crunched office workers: the stairwell – an altogether different world to the hustle and bustle of the lifts. The stairs are quiet and solitary – you get some funny looks from security guards, the odd stair loiterer and off-duty cleaners, but mostly you’re alone with your thoughts, until you emerge into the brightly lit office lobby (panting).

I thought I’d share some of the findings, in case anyone else needs inspiring … (And since looking into this, I’ve found out that plenty of people in Dubai, where the skyline reaches high into the atmosphere, are already mountaineering their buildings – including several of my work colleagues and the nutters enthusiasts who take part in organised stair-climbing races.)

You burn about 0.1 calories for every step you climb, so that’s roughly a calorie for every 10 upward steps. You also burn calories going down. Every stair descended burns about 0.05 calories, which equates to one calorie for every 20 steps down, according to British firm StepJockey, which is encouraging Dubai to ditch the lifts.

– About seven minutes of stair climbing a day has been estimated to more than half the risk of a heart attack over 10 years.

– Meanwhile, New York University estimates that with the stairs burning almost 700 per cent more calories than standing in an elevator, two minutes of stair climbing a day burns enough to eliminate the one pound weight gain the average adult experiences each year.

Will you join me and take the stairs? Although it’s not really getting any easier, I swear I’ve discovered deep down parts of my lungs I didn’t even know existed.