Want to Grow Your Brain? Then Walk!
Healthy people who walk at least 9.7km (6 miles) per week have bigger brains, better memories and improved mental function compared with "couch potatoes" a recent study has found.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. found that walking is the best way of preserving both mental and physical health in old age.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Ann Lukits explained that the study found that a year of modest aerobic exercise reversed normal brain shrinkage by one to two years in older adults and improved their memory function. "As people age, the hippocampus, the brain's memory center, loses 1% to 2% of its volume annually, affecting memory and possibly increasing the risk for dementia."
She explained, "A growing body of evidence has pointed to aerobic exercise as a low-cost hedge against neurocognitive decline. In the study, magnetic resonance imaging was used to measure the effects of aerobic exercise on the hippocampus in 120 Americans in their late 50s to early 80s. Half the group walked three times a week for 40 minutes, aiming for their target heart rate, while the other half did yoga and toning exercises. The hippocampus in walkers increased by 2% after a year and shrank by 1.4% in controls."
While both the walking group and the yoga group showed improvements on spatial memory tests conducted before and after the study, it was argued that this could be due to taking the test repeated times. In the walking group, however, changes in hippocampus volume were directly related to improved memory performance, the researchers said.
Given that the study involved people "just" walking, could we argue that by Nordic Walking, engaging up to 90% of the muscles, Nordic Walkers will end up being even smarter?
Ann Lukits, "Exercise Improves Memory"; Wall Street Journal, 21 February 2011
Erickson, Voss et al, "Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory"; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; December 2010.