Climbing up the stairs not only helps you stay fit but also slows down brain aging, a new study suggests.

A team of researchers from Concordia University found that people who have younger brains are those who stayed in school longer and climbed more flights of stairs. It is widely-known that education plays a significant role in keeping the brain young, but the part where climbing the stairs could slow down aging is still unclear.

In the study published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, the team measured the gray matter of 331 brains from participants age 19 to 79 years old using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The gray matter is a good indicator of brain aging since its decline is brought about by neural shrinkage and neuronal loss. The researchers compared the measured brain volume with the number of stairs climbed and years of education completed.

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, which is described as the stairs between two floors in a building.

"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," said Jason Steffener, scientist at Concordia's Perform Centre.

"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 added.

Previous studies have shown that physical activity keeps the mind active, too. This may explain why people who climb more stairs are more likely to have younger brains.

In one particular study, people who stay physically and mentally active may delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. The researchers found that people who had more years spent studying and continued physical activity had lesser amyloid plaques, the hallmark of the most common type of dementia.

Another study pointed out the importance of physical activity to promote brain health. Exercising in middle adult life and keeping blood pressure at bay may help promote healthy brain aging.

Photo:  Kenny Louie | Flickr

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