By the end of a 30-minute stint on a treadmill at the gym, you're probably doused in sweat, out of breath and suffering from tired muscles. Spend 30 minutes climbing stairs, however, and you'd long for the relative ease of running on a treadmill. While both exercises have numerous benefits, stair climbing burns significantly more calories than running on a treadmill in almost all situations.
Stair climbing provides exercise that few other types of workout can match. The fitness website NutriStrategy reports that a 130-pound individual who climbs stairs for an hour will burn around 885 calories. To burn this many calories in an hour on a treadmill, a person of the same weight would need to run at a speed of 9 miles per hour, which is difficult to accomplish and sustain for that duration of time. Moderate running on a treadmill will burn roughly 500 calories in an hour.
Running on a treadmill and climbing a set of stairs each provides a comprehensive cardiovascular workout. In each exercise, you work the muscle groups throughout your body, with an emphasis on the leg and abdominal muscles. If you want to increase the benefit for your arms, consider holding small dumbbells while running or climbing. If dumbbells aren't available, vigorously pumping your arms gives them more of a workout.
Whereas most people run steadily on a treadmill for a certain length of time, it's extremely difficult to run up and down stairs without a break for more than a few minutes. If you want a steady, calorie-burning exercise, a treadmill might suit you best. But if you want to really push your body and don't mind taking short breathers in between sets, try running up and down a set of stairs for a few minutes -- aim for 10 total trips up and down -- and then relax for a few minutes to catch your breath.
Any time you're contemplating a workout that involves moving your feet, consider the impact of the activity and how it will feel for your body. Running on a treadmill is an impact activity, but because you don't have to lift your feet much, it's possible to give your joints a minimal impact when working out. Stair climbing provides more of an impact, especially when you're running down the stairs. Despite stair climbing's immense physical benefits, running on a treadmill is better if you suffer from sore joints.
Toronto-based journalist William McCoy has been writing since 1997, specializing in topics such as sports, nutrition and health. He serves as the Studio's sports and recreation section expert. McCoy is a journalism graduate of Ryerson University.