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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

Elevators Are Handy, But Science Says Taking the Stairs Will Literally Make You Smarter

woman on stairs

My office is on the ninth floor, my apartment on the first level. When I get to work, I push the elevator button and wait for it to deposit me on the correct floor. I take it down to leave at the end of the day, and, in fact, if it weren’t for the stairs I climb to get into and out of subway stations, I’d rarely ever have to take the steps.

It’s not just the ninth floor office walk-up that I avoid because I can, because I never once considered climbing that many flights; it’s also doctor’s offices on second or third floors and sometimes even clothing stores that have an elevator option. It’s a rare occasion that I feel emboldened to eschew the right side of the escalator in favor of walking—the difficult route.

It turns out I may be doing my brain a real disservice, and if you’re inclined to take the elevator wherever you go, wherever it’s available—in spite of the fact that your two legs could definitely manage the stairs—you’re guilty as charged. A new study on PsyBlog explains that for every flight of stairs you climb daily, the age of your brain actually decreases—by more than six months. That’s an astonishing finding!

Researchers and doctors looked at 331 adult brains, specifically gray matter loss and, along with noting education levels, they analyzed exercise habits. Dr. Jason Steffener, who is leading the study published in Neurobiology of Aging, found that “education and physical activity affect the difference between a physiological prediction of age and chronological age.” So, while continued learning and professional development is unarguably helpful in stalling brain aging, physical exercise is also a huge factor.

The workout of choice doesn’t have to be taking the stairs, necessarily, but because opting for climbing up a flight or two of steps over relying on an escalator or elevator is often easier for people to incorporate into their routine on a daily basis, than say, running five miles or biking 10, it’s an obvious choice.

So, if you’re one of those people who doesn’t have time to go to the gym regularly or exercise much at all, you should really think about ditching the easy option for the one that gets your heart rate up. The next time I look up with dread at a long subway flight of stairs, I’ll remember the findings of this study. Who knows? It may even get me to skip the elevator on my way up to the office—on occasion.

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