Do your brain a favor ... make walking a part of your regular routine! Evidence that regular walking benefits brain health continues to pile up. If you're not a walker, this should convince you to start!
A recent study from The Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois involving 120 sedentary people aged 55-80 found that walking increased the size of the hippocampus, a critical area of the brain for new learning and creating long-term memories. Participants of the study had not engaged in more than 30 minutes of daily exercise in the six months before of the study; they then took part in exercise groups for a year. Half of the participants walked three days a week, starting out 10 minutes per day and increasing to 40 minutes per day as their fitness levels improved. The other half did stretching and toning exercises for the same amount of time.
Participants were assessed at the start of the study, at six months into the study, and at the end of the year for spatial memory, fitness levels, and levels of a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), an essential fuel for the growth of new neurons in the brain. They were also given brain scans to track physical changes.
The assessments showed that fitness levels for the walking group improved more than in the stretching and toning group. The walking group also had an increase in the size of the hippocampus. Spatial memory and levels of BDNF increased in both groups, but only the walking group was found to have increased the size of the hippocampus. Studies have shown that had the participants continued to be inactive for the year, their hippocampus would have shrunk by one to two per cent, while walking just three times a week boosted their memory and increased the size of their hippocampus.
While this study concentrated on walking, it is believed that any aerobic activity could offer the same benefits. If you can’t get out for a walk due to weather conditions try walking on a treadmill.
If a knee injuries get in the way of your walking routine, try weight-lifting. A study conducted by scientists at the University of British Columbia focused on women ages 70 to 80 with mild cognitive impairment. They found that after six months of exercise, either walking or weight training, the women performed better performance on cognitive tests than they had before. It is interesting that while both exercise groups improved almost equally on tests of spatial memory, the women who had walked showed greater gains in verbal memory than the women who had lifted weights.
So get out there and walk ... you'll build strength and memories!