Here’s something to think about next time you are out for a stroll: walking at any age can improve your brain’s health. That’s right, you can start a new habit for good health if you are in your 30s or your 90s or anywhere in between and enjoy the benefits.
As people age, the brain shrinks. Studies show that people who continued to regularly exercise—even just taking a routine walk—reversed age-related brain shrinkage. People living with Alzheimer’s disease, in which the brain deteriorates at an even faster rate than typical aging, may also be able to still benefit from exercise like walking.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, scientists continue to study reversing memory loss with regular exercise. Statistics show that Alzheimer’s disease is not increasing as much as it did previously, but it is still a serious health threat around the globe. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, deaths from heart disease have decreased by 14% since 2000 while deaths from Alzheimer’s disease increased by 89% during that same time.
Pay attention if you are in one of the high-risk groups for Alzheimer’s disease: African-Americans, women, Hispanics, and those over age 65 are all groups that are more likely to get this illness. Right now, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s dementia every 66 seconds.
Moving the arms and legs and therefore pumping blood throughout the body with aerobic activity stimulates the brain. There have been many studies looking at the connection between exercise—specifically walking, but also other activities—where the size of the brain’s hippocampus appears to be boosted. The hippocampus is the part of the brain involved with memory.
The brain benefits in more ways than one when you exercise. First, exercise will stimulate chemicals that affect the growth of new blood vessels in the brain and the ability of new brain cells to survive. Second, when a body is physically tired, there is improved sleep along with reduced stress. Other studies have found that stress and poor rest can be a factor in cognitive impairment.
In one study, participants walked about two hours a week, but there are recommendations for at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise daily. However, if that sounds like climbing a mountain, just start with baby steps—a few minutes a day or with a walk around the block and then keep adding more time and steps. Call a friend who can keep you on track or join you for a walk so you can set goals together.
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