It is generally accepted that walking becomes more and more important with age, but the reasons are not always clearly defined. According to researchers at Wake Forest University, older populations who regularly take the time to walk not only improve their physical health, but also improve markers related to brain function.
Their study, published in the journal NeuroImage, found that walking for 40 minutes at least three times a week can significantly improve memory and overall cognition.
Brisk walking has even been found to be more effective than rigorous forms of exercise like dancing.
Never too old to improve brain health
Arguably, the most important finding of the new study concerns the reversible nature of age-induced brain damage.
All of the participants featured in the new study were over 60 years old. Each, although generally healthy, experienced various stages of brain shrinkage and tissue scarring.
In order to assess the depth of cognitive benefits associated with physical activity, particularly walking, the authors divided participants into one of three groups: the control group who performed stretching and balancing exercises three times a week, the dancers who performed aerobic dances and the group walkers who walk 40 minutes three times a week. Each group trained for six months.
Although the dancers enjoyed comparable physical health benefits to those of the walkers at the end of the study period, the latter performed better on memory tests.
âThe dancers spent part of their time in each session looking at the instructors and didn’t move much,â corresponding author Agnieszka Burzynska explained in a recent interview. “It probably affected their results.”
Both dancers and walkers benefited from decreased damage to their brain tissue and increased volume of white matter (an area of ââthe brain important for learning and critical thinking). The walkers also represented the best results on these fronts.
This is particularly important for the older, otherwise healthy participants in the study, as the deterioration of white matter is associated with cognitive impairments related to healthy aging and is a warning sign. of dementia.
All movement is necessary
The control group had declining health in all categories established by the authors. These subjects experienced thinning in areas of the brain essential for memory formation. Sedentary behavior further accelerates the rate at which brain cells deteriorate.
Decreased cognitive performance is expected with aging, but the new study suggests its onset can be significantly slowed with relevant lifestyle changes.
Medical experts recommend that people aged 65 and over try to do at least two and a half hours of moderate aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking every day. week. This works out to about 30 minutes three days a week.
If you fall into this demographic, you can try pulling for an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise (like jogging) every week.