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Benefits of Brisk Walking for the Brain

Brisk walking and dancing improve older-adult brain fitness.

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Older woman enjoying the benefits of brisk walking

In a study that notes the benefits of brisk walking, Colorado State University researchers in Fort Collins found that aerobic exercise training can improve the integrity of connective tissue (white matter) in the brains of older adults, resulting in better episodic memory. While studies have shown that exercise boosts the brain’s gray matter, it has been unclear whether physical activity affects white matter. Investigators conducted a randomized clinical trial with 180 adults ages 60–79 who agreed to participate in a 6-month study involving aerobic walking and dance. Researchers divided the adults into three groups: aerobic walking, social dance and control.

Data analysis showed that the aerobic walkers improved white-matter integrity—with measurable increases in signaling between brain regions—in contrast to typical age-related signaling loss. Members of the social dance group also improved brain function, but not as much as those in the walking group. Control group members showed increased white-matter deterioration.

Study authors concluded that aerobic exercise can influence the plasticity of white matter. They also noted that the benefits of brisk walking and aerobic exercise for the brain warrant further research.

Find the study in NeuroImage (2021; 239, 118305).

See also: Aerobic Fitness and Brain Health

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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