Taking the stairs - as well as studying more - could help keep the brain younger for longer, a study has found.
Scientists have found a clear relationship between the number of flights of stairs a person climbs, and the years of education a person has, and their brain age.
Research, which examined the brains of 331 healthy adults aged 19 to 79, found every year of formal education lowered brain age by 0.95 years.
Meanwhile, every daily flight of stairs climbed – between two consecutive floors – also rolled back brain age, by 0.58 years annually.
By the scientists' measure, walking up four flights of stairs every day would reduce brain age by more than two years, while five years of formal education would take almost another five years off.
Jason Steffner, a scientist who led the research at Concordia University’s PERFORM centre, said: “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.”
The team conducted non-invasive tests on the adults using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the amount of grey matter in participants’ brains, as its decline is a very visible part of aging.
When they compared the brain volumes, those people who had climbed more stairs daily and engaged in more education clearly had more grey matter - and their brains appeared younger.
“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,” said Dr Steffner.
“This is encouraging because it demonstrates that a simple thing like climbing stairs has great potential as an intervention tool to promote brain health.”