Physical activity is a vitally important part of a healthy lifestyle, particularly moderate-intensity exercise, which has been linked to a number of health benefits. Moderate-intensity exercise can be achieved in a number of ways, including something as simple as taking a brisk walk. One proposed benefit of walking is an improvement in brain function; however, long-term studies showing the true benefit have been lacking.
One research study explored the effect of walking on brain size, specifically gray matter size, and memory health in 299 older adults (average age of 78 years). To determine the impact of physical activity on brain and memory function, the study investigators measured the number of blocks walked over a 1 week period, scanned the volunteers brains 9 years after measuring physical activity, and measured memory function after 13 years. According to the study summary and related press release, the study results indicated that:
- The amount walked over a 1 week period ranged from 0 to 300 blocks with an average of about 56 blocks.
- Brain size was greater after 9 years in individuals who walked at least 72 blocks (about 6 - 9 miles) per week (or about a mile per day) compared to individuals who walked less than 72 blocks per week.
- After 13 years, walking 72 blocks per week reduced the risk of memory loss by 2-fold.
This is excellent news. Exercise, including walking, has been linked to numerous health benefits. This new research indicates that walking about one mile per day might reduce the risk of memory impairment, the stage of memory loss before dementia. This reduced risk of memory loss was linked to greater brain size in individuals who walked about one mile per day. Aging has been linked to a reduction in brain size, but this new research suggests that a moderate-intensity exercise like walking can help protect against a loss of brain volume. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, "if you're doing moderate-intensity activity you can talk, but not sing, during the activity. If you're doing vigorous-intensity activity, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath". While we all know that walking is a great part of any weight loss program, this new research also suggests that walking can help promote normal memory health. So get out and walk whenever possible!
Aaron Tabor, MD
Diet, Anti-Aging, and Nutritional Cosmetic Expert
Author of Dr. Tabor’s Diet
and FIGHT NOW
Learn more about Dr. Tabor’s diet and anti-aging research at www.DrTabor.com
- Erickson KI, et al. Physical activity predicts gray matter volume in late adulthood. Neurology 2010; Published online before print, October 13 2010, doi: 10.1212/WNLL.0b013e3181f88359.