With modern lives getting more and more sedentary, and rates of obesity on the rise, doctors are constantly trying to get people to do whatever they can to get more active. Even something as simple as taking the stairs instead of riding an escalator or elevator can provide big benefits to overall health. But, it could also bring a more specific benefit.
A new study has found that taking the stairs also packs another important benefit: it keeps the brain "young." The results, published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, suggest that taking the stairs preserves grey matter in the brain by resisting loss or shrinking of neurons, making it appear and act younger.
"There already exist many 'Take the stairs' campaigns in office environments and public transportation centres," lead author Jason Steffener, of Concordia Univerity, explained in a press release. "This study shows that these campaigns should also be expanded for older adults, so that they can work to keep their brains young."
While loss of grey matter in the brain is just something that happens as a person gets older, Steffener's team found that each flight of stairs climbed every day made the brain comparatively 0.58 years younger. Keeping the brain acting young and healthy is an important part of staving off neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer's.
The data came from MRI brain scans of more than 300 volunteers with ages ranging from 19-79, but taking the stairs wasn't the only way to keep the brain young.
According to the scans, staying in school has a large effect on the relative age of the brain as well. In fact, for every year of school that the volunteer completed, their brain appeared almost a full year younger.
"This study shows that education and physical activity affect the difference between a physiological prediction of age and chronological age, and that people can actively do something to help their brains stay young," Steffener continued.
Of course, the benefit of taking the stairs has a lot more to do with staying active, as opposed to the motion of climbing stairs itself. Adults who might not be able to go back to college can keep their brains active by reading, completing puzzles, or taking free online classes to continue a lifetime of learning.
"In comparison to many other forms of physical activity, taking the stairs is something most older adults can and already do at least once a day, unlike vigorous forms of physical activity," Steffener explained. "This is encouraging because it demonstrates that a simple thing like climbing stairs has great potential as an intervention tool to promote brain health."
Cover image: Shutterstock