It is well established that walking burns calories and reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, but research is showing that it also affects brain health. A new study published in the scientific journal NeuroImage offers new insight on walking, and how it is effective at improving cognitive function and memory as you grow older.
The study involved 250 older adults who were sedentary, but otherwise healthy. Aerobic fitness and cognitive skills were measured, as well as the health and function of their white brain matter using a brain scan.
The group was then divided into three cohorts, all meeting three times a week. The control group consisted of supervised stretching and balance exercises, another group walked briskly for 40 minutes per session, and the final group danced, learning and practicing line dances and choreographed moves.
After six months, the groups were brought in for repeat lab work and testing. The results showed the walkers and dancers were aerobically fitter, as expected, but their white brain matter, considered the brain’s wiring, seemed renewed. The new scans revealed larger nerve fibers in certain areas, and any tissue lesions that were present had shrunk. Most notably, these white matter effects were most prevalent in the walking group, who also performed better on memory tests at the end of the study. The control group actually showed declining white matter health and falling cognitive scores.
These results support the theory that white brain matter remains active as we age, and by simply adding a few brisk walks to our weekly routine, we might help renew brain matter and slow or stave off memory decline.
So grab your sneakers and hit the road. Your body, and your brain, will thank you.
By Lindsay McDonald
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