Toronto | Want to keep your brain young? Take the stairs, say scientists who found that moderate physical activity can significantly slow down grey-matter ageing. Researchers led by Jason Steffener, from Concordia University in Canada, showed that the more flights of stairs a person climbs, and the more years of school a person completes, the younger their brain physically appears.
The study also found that education has positive effects. The researchers found that brain age decreases by 0.95 years for each year of education, and by 0.58 years for every daily flight of stairs climbed – ie the stairs between two consecutive floors in a building. There already exist many ‘Take the stairs’ campaigns in office environments and public transportation centres, said Steffener. This study shows that these campaigns should also be expanded for older adults, so that they can work to keep their brains young, he said.
For the study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the brains of 331 healthy adults who ranged in age from 19 to 79. They measured the volume of grey matter found in participants’ brains because its decline, caused by neural shrinkage and neuronal loss, is a very visible part of the chronological ageing process.
Then, they compared brain volume to the participants’ reported number of flights of stairs climbed, and years of schooling completed. Researchers found that the more flights of stairs climbed, and the more years of schooling completed, the younger was the brain. 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 said.
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, he said. This is encouraging because it demonstrates that a simple thing like climbing stairs has great potential as an intervention tool to promote brain health, Steffener said.
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