Walking Off Dementia | Exercise and The Brain

Mom knew best when she told us to turn off that TV and go outside and play. It’s good advice for young and old. As usual, a “recent study” confirms what we already know – that exercise is good for us. It’s good for the mind and the body. But not all exercise is equal. Turns out if you’re looking to keep your mind working well into your golden years, walking is a step in the right direction.

A group of professional couch potatoes, as one researcher described them, has proven that even moderate exercise in this case walking at one’s own pace for 40 minutes three times a week can enhance the connectivity of important brain circuits, combat declines in brain function associated with aging and increase performance on cognitive tasks.


The brain, like the rest of us, likes to take it easy and conserve energy. Why think when you can just veg-out?  Trouble is, we can stuck in that mode (the default mode network (DMN), which dominates brain activity when a person is least engaged with the outside world either passively observing something or simply daydreaming). In people suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease have less activity in DMN and have trouble shifting into more active modes.

It appears that walking, just 40 minutes three times a week, can help boost cognitive performance.  No, you don’t have to walk briskly, flapping your arms like a chicken. Just walking at your normal pace can do the trick.

This isn’t a quick solution – it looks like there was cognitive improvement after 12 months of this activity, but little change just 6 months into the program.

Walking was compared to “toning and stretching” exercises.  These activities (which are important for their own reasons) did not seem to boost brain health. It’s thought that the aerobic benefits of walking contribute to cardiovascular health and increase cerebral blood flow.

I wonder if there isn’t more to it.  Working out can be boring, repetitive and solitary. Walking can expose us to novel experiences and promotes interaction with the environment and other people.  As John Medina proposes in Brain Rules, “our brains were built for walking – 12 miles a day!”

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

Humans evolved as plains drifters – learning, exploring and moving. Modern life put an end to that and perhaps cognitive decline can be linked that. Medina says that “aerobic exercise just twice a week halves your risk of dementia.”

The University of Illinois study shows us that “aerobic” need not mean breaking out the leg warmers and body suit – all you need is a place to walk.

So, now that you know what you already knew – what will you do? How will you make sure your elderly loved ones walk on a regular basis? Hiring a home companion to take your aging parent out for a walk on a regular basis can ensure that they get the long term benefits of walking.

ElderKind Tip:

You can to help keep your special senior citizen healthy and happy here: “”Find Local Senior Caregivers””

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