The results of a new study will have you reconsidering that MBA and seeking out the stairs. Yep, the research, published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, found that both things can actually make your brain appear “younger.”
Researchers used an MRI to examine the brains of 331 healthy men and women ranging in age from 19 to 79. They measured the volume of grey matter—the bits of your brain involved with muscle control, memory, emotions, decision making, and more—in the participants’ brains since its deterioration is a very visible part of the natural aging process. Then, they looked at the brain volume in relation to the number of flights of stairs climbed as well as to the number of years of school completed by each participant.
The results: Brain age decreases for each year of education and the brains of people who climb more stairs appear younger than others.
“We don’t know the exact physiological mechanism that makes taking the stairs more closely related to brain health than, say, running,” says lead study author Jason Steffener, a researcher at Concordia University in Montreal. “What we do know is that stair climbing is repeatedly done throughout the day, on most if not all days of the week, and represents small bouts of moderately intense physical activity.”
Frequency is key here. Repeated engagement in small amounts of moderately intense exercise has been shown to improve memory and increase hippocampus size in past research, so it can be inferred that stair climbing might have a similar effect.
As for the education? Well, that’s more complicated—and not related to learning surprisingly enough. Steffener says: “Higher degrees of education are closely related to better job opportunities and better access to healthcare. The socio-economic effects of greater education are most likely playing the largest role in yielding a younger brain.”
But if the thought of going back to school makes your brain hurt, shake a leg and hit the stairs. Even if you moan about it the whole way up, your brain will be basking in its youthful glory for years to come.