Brain Health

One-Minute Trick Boosts Problem Solving Skills

One-Minute Trick Boosts Problem Solving Skills about undefined

You know how exercise can boost your cognitive function and mental wellbeing. However, not everyone likes to exercise, and some don’t exercise regularly because of time constraints. In either case, there’s a quick physical activity that can bolster your ability to problem solve and it doesn’t require a gym membership or even workout clothes.

All you need is a flight of stairs…

Every time you walk up or down stairs, muscles in your legs and ankles are stretched and contracted and your cardiovascular and respiratory systems get a workout. In fact, walking up the stairs involves lifting body weight upwards against gravity. This takes effort and is good for your heart, lungs, and leg muscles. Benefits in each of these areas have also been linked to improved brain function, however only a few studies have looked specifically at the effect of stair climbing on the brain.

Here's what researchers have found so far…

Climbing Stairs: Good For Your Body and Your Brain

One study linked stair climbing to larger brain volume and a lower brain age in healthy adults aged 19 to 79. Another study found brief, moderate-intensity stair-climbing improved both cognition and mood in younger adults. And in a third study on stair-climbing and memory, participants with an average age of 70 showed improved cognition following moderate-to high-intensity stair climbing.

In the latest study, researchers at Yamaguchi University in Japan investigated the impact of a short bout of stair-climbing on specific areas of cognitive function: Problem solving, sometimes called convergent thinking, and creative task-mastering, sometimes called divergent thinking.

For their study the Japanese team recruited 52 volunteers in their twenties who underwent cognitive tests to assess their convergent and divergent thinking processes. Convergent thinking requires higher-order problem-solving skills needed to find a single solution, such as solving a math question or a crossword clue. Divergent thinking requires cognitive flexibility for creative tasks, such as having to come up with as many unusual, creative, and unique uses for an object.

After the tests the participants were randomly assigned to one of four stair-climbing interventions: ascending stairs for two, five, or eight flights, or taking an elevator for eight flights, after which the participants underwent further brain tests. The results were impressive…

Just Two Flights Improves Convergent Thinking

The results revealed a notable improvement in convergent thinking for participants who climbed two flights of stairs compared to those who took the elevator.

Climbing just two flights, which takes less than a one minute, enhanced convergent thinking evaluated over four minutes. “This underscores,” the researchers wrote, “the potent efficacy of incorporating stair-climbing into daily routines.”

Interestingly, more stair-climbing is not better…

The researchers found that climbing five or eight flights of stairs showed no such impact on convergent thinking, possibly because the longer climb was more physically demanding and less enjoyable, thus nullifying the brain benefits.

To the researchers’ surprise, stair-climbing, regardless of the number of flights, did not significantly influence divergent thinking—conceptualizing creative tasks— although there was a trend towards improved original thinking capability.

“These findings,” the researchers wrote in their paper, published in the journal Scientific Reports in January, “underscore the utility of brief stair-climbing as an accessible means to enhance convergent thinking in everyday settings.”

What Does This Mean For Your Thinking?

The researchers report that there are several real-life implications arising from their study.

Although moderate to high intensity physical activities are believed to be more conducive for brain health, “our findings prompt a reconsideration of this paradigm [as] very light-intensity physical activities might be more efficacious,” report the researchers.

They encourage all of us to choose two-flight stair-climbing as a feasible option for integrating effective, brief physical activity into our daily lives.

If you don’t have stairs in your home, take advantage of this research when at the mall, library, restaurant, or parking lot. In other words, there are usually many opportunities in daily life to take the stairs and boost your brain. In fact, we’ve reported on the amazing health benefits you receive during the normal activities of daily living, and this just adds more weight to that argument to get moving whenever and wherever you can.

And if there are any cruciverbalists (crossword-solvers) among you, and you’re struggling with six across, the answer to the clue might be found two flights up.

  • Nasrollahi N, et al. J Aging Phys Act. 2022 Jun 1;30(3):455-465 Effects of a Brief Stair-Climbing Intervention on Cognitive Functioning and Mood States in Older Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial Link
  • Kawashima C, et al. Sci Rep. 2024 Jan 2;14(1):176 Evaluating the impact of a short bout of stair-climbing on creative thinking in a between-subjects pretest posttest comparison study Link

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