A new study in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience shows that walking for forty minutes three times a week can improve the connectivity between brain circuits that tend to erode as we age. The study took a group of couch potatoes who reported fewer than two 30-minute bouts of exercise in the past six months (!), and found that at the end of twelve months, their brain connectivity had improved.
Dr. Arthur F. Kramer, who led the study, explained to Reuters: "Patterns of connectivity decrease as we get older. Networks aren't as well connected to support the things we do, such as driving," he said. "But we found as a function of aerobic fitness, the networks became more coherent."
Walking became the ultimate brain anti-ager, turning the clock back decades. "As the older people in the walking group became more fit, the coherence among different regions in the networks increased and became similar to those of the 20-year-olds," Kramer explained.
Kramer told Science Daily, that while previous studies had indicated the effects of exercise on the brain, this study shows that even moderate aerobic exercise can increase brain function.
In this study, the lesson of how to improve our lives comes through loud and clear again: we don't have to make dramatic, top-to-bottom change to start living well. But we do have to stick with it. The group showed no significant effects at the six-month marker; it wasn't until the end of the trial that the results were significant.
Furthermore, it wasn't just brain connectivity that benefited: "The aerobic group also improved in memory, attention and a variety of other cognitive processes," Kramer said.
For creative types, author Julia Cameron has long recommended walking as a way to give your creativity a boost. Strolling through the neighborhood gives our brain a chance to take a wider view, rather than focusing on a singular task, enabling us to come up with great ideas and make connections.
And when it comes to starting a new workout routine, the least intimidating starting place of all is walking: No special equipment, skills, or memberships required.
The tricky part for most of us is sticking to our new plan. Whether our goal is boost brain function or get physically stronger, how do you keep up the health resolutions that you make? If you were going to resolve to start walking three times a week, how would you actually make that happen?
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