Step by Step: Evaluation of Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Healthy Children, Young Adults, and Patients with Congenital Heart Disease Using a Simple Standardized Stair Climbing Test

Children (Basel). 2024 Feb 12;11(2):236. doi: 10.3390/children11020236.


(1) Background: Cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) is known to be a prognostic factor regarding long-term morbidity and mortality. This study aimed to develop a standardized Stair Climbing Test (SCT) with a reliable correlation to spiroergometry and the 6MWT which can be used in healthy children as well as patients with congenital heart disease (CHD) and a restricted exercise capacity. (2) Methods: A total of 28 healthy participants aged 10-18 years were included. We tested the individuals' CRF by cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET) on a treadmill, the 6MWT, and a newly developed Stair Climbing Test (SCT). For the SCT, we defined a standardized SCT protocol with a total height of 13.14 m to achieve maximal exercise effects while recording time and vital parameters. To compare the SCT, the 6 Min Walking Test, and CPET, we introduced an SCT-Index that included patient data (weight, height) and time. To assess the SCT's feasibility for clinical practice, we also tested our protocol with five adolescents with complex congenital heart disease (i.e., Fontan circulation). (3) Results: A strong correlation was observed between SCT-Index and O2 pulse (r = 0.921; p < 0.001). In addition, when comparing the time achieved during SCT (tSCT) with VO2max (mL/min/kg) and VO2max (mL/min), strong correlations were found (r = -0.672; p < 0.001 and r = -0.764; p < 0.001). Finally, we determined a very strong correlation between SCT-Index and VO2max (mL/min) (r = 0.927; p = <0.001). When comparing the 6MWD to tSCT, there was a moderate correlation (r = -0.544; p = 0.003). It appears to be feasible in patients with Fontan circulation. (4) Conclusions: We were able to demonstrate that there is a significant correlation between our standardized SCT and treadmill CPET. Therefore, we can say that the SCT can be used as an easy supplement to CPET and in certain contexts, it can also be used as a screening tool when CPET is not available. The advantages would be that the SCT is a simple, quick, cost-effective, and reliable standardized (sub)maximal exercise test to evaluate CRF in healthy children on a routine basis. We can even assume that it can be used in patients with congenital heart disease.

Keywords: cardiorespiratory fitness; children; congenital heart disease; exercise test; stair climbing test.