Walk Your Way to a Sharper Brain and Better Memory
You may know that walking is one of my favorite forms of exercise. For one thing, it’s inexpensive and easy. And it has tremendous health benefits.
Walking builds heart health, strengthens muscles, helps you lose weight, supports healthy bone density, and can even help improve balance. But new studies show that walking is an even better deal.
These studies found that walking may help improve your memory and keep your brain sharp. In fact, walking may actually help your brain grow!
Here’s what the researchers discovered…
In one study, a team from several universities followed a group of 299 adults for 13 years. People who walked an average of 156 blocks a day – about 1.3 miles – had brains 10% larger in three key areas than people who only walked an average of 8 blocks a day.
Perhaps even more important, the long walkers were only half as likely to lose their mental sharpness after 13 years.1
Imagine! Just going for a walk could help keep you mentally sharper. And you don’t have to walk over a mile a day to get a mental boost, either. People who averaged just 72 blocks a day (a little more than half a mile) experienced a clear benefit.
In a second study, researchers divided 120 “couch potatoes” into two groups. The first group started a walking program. They walked around a track for 40 minutes, just three times a week. The second group started doing stretching and toning exercises.
After a year, the stretching group had an average shrinkage of 1.4% in the hippocampus – a part of the brain linked to memory. The walking group, however, averaged more than 2% growth in the hippocampus. And the walkers showed improved memory function as well. But the other group’s memory function got worse!2
According to the researchers, one year of walking appeared to effectively reverse the effects of aging on the hippocampus by as much as two years.
A third study looked at the effects of walking on people already suffering cognitive decline. This study shows that walking about 5 miles a day helped maintain brain volume – and slowed the loss of mental sharpness.3
These researchers also discovered that walking the equivalent of 72 blocks a week helped healthy adults maintain brain volume… and cut their risk of mental decline. That’s exactly the same distance that showed a benefit in the first study.
In other words, walking is great for your brain, as well as your body. But would you like to get even more out of your walking? Scientists may have discovered how.
A team from Essex and Exeter Universities in the United Kingdom reviewed 11 studies on exercise. They found that 9 of the studies showed greater benefit from exercising outdoors.
These extra benefits include…
- Feeling more revitalized and positive
- Getting rid of more tension, anger and confusion
- Developing a stronger determination to continue exercising4
If you’re walking, getting outdoors is usually easy. You can walk in a park, a town forest or a local greenway. Or walk on the sidewalk in a residential neighborhood. Wildlife refuges, state and national parks usually have walking trails, too. Even just walking on your local high school track counts.
If you start walking now, you could be enjoying the benefits for many years to come.
Dr Kenneth Woliner, M.D.
Best Life Herbals
1 Erickson KI, et al. Physical activity predicts gray matter volume in late adulthood. Neurology 2010, doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181f88359. Published online before print October 13, 2010.
2 Erickson KI, et al. PNAS January 31, 2011. Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Published online before print January 31, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015950108.
3 See http://www.rsna.org/media/pressreleases/pr_target.cfm?ID=508.
4 Coon JT, et al. Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review. Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP, DOI: 10.1021/es102947t, Publication Date (Web): February 3, 2011.