Walk to Remember
We frequently emphasize the positive aspects of walking. Benefits to our cardiovascular system, bones, joints, waistline, balance, and even core strength are well known. It is now understood by experts in these fields that walking also has important benefits on the brain and nervous system, particularly for delaying the onset and severity of dementia.
A recent article in the AARP journal outlines the neurophysiological benefits of walking, particularly walking outside:
1.Walking outside, as opposed to treadmill use, creates “self-generated optic flow”(the perception of objects moving past us as we walk) the effect of which is to relax the brain, offsetting the damaging effects of stress related cortisol secretion. Prolonged cortisol elevation (the fight or flight response) may actually damage cognition and accelerate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
2.Walking at least 4000 steps per day reduces cognitive decline and dementia by delaying age related shrinking of the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for memory, learning and cognitive function.
3.Blood flow to the brain increases during walking causing an increase in the “feel good neurotransmitters” serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, enhancing one’s mood.
4. Creativity can be stimulated by a short walk - even getting up from your desk may stimulate ideas and creative surges. Neurons utilize about three times as much oxygen as muscles do, so walking, by increasing blood flow and oxygen supply, gets the brain working.
5.Aerobic activities, like walking, stimulates BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is important for survival of existing brain cells and the generation of new ones. So walking may actually facilitate the growth of new brain tissue.
Extensive research continues in these areas, especially as the population ages and methodologies to delay cognitive decline become more important. It may be that simply walking every day is one of the best things you can do for your heart, and your brain, so lace up your walking shoes, and get out there and walk!
Dr. John Monaco