Exercise for Your Brain

A new study found that exercise that gets your heart pumping is also good for your brain. 

The study followed healthy adults for six months as they walked, danced, or did low-intensity exercises like stretching and balance practice. Those who stuck with low-intensity exercises saw a normal decline in the strength of their memories, but those who got their heart rates up had an improvement in the white matter in their brains — the part of the brain that connects and carries signals between neurons.

This supports prior research that has shown that gray matter, the part of the brain that processes information, benefits from aerobic exercise. 

It’s not too late

The fact that the study saw changes in six months also shows that the benefits of exercise are not only over the long term. Prior research has shown that regular exercise benefits the brain over a lifetime. 

But there is also evidence that starting to exercise now will benefit your brain in the short term, too. 

The subjects who took part in the walking sessions had improvements in their episodic memory — that is, their ability to remember events from their own lives. This is a different kind of memory from the ability to remember facts. 

An earlier study found that people who had begun to experience some memory loss improved after a year of the walking program. This study also compared the aerobic exercise of walking with a stretching and toning program. While stretching and toning are good for the body, the brain function improved only with the walking program.

How to take up walking

A good goal for a walking program is 30 minutes of brisk walking at least five times per week. Brisk walking would be walking fast enough to make conversation slightly difficult. This adds up to the 150 minutes of aerobic exercise recommended by the American Heart Association. 

Why You Should Start Walking

If you can’t complete half an hour of walking, start with 10 minutes and add 5 minutes each week until you reach the 30-minute goal. Then you can increase speed and distance over time.

10 Minutes at a Time? Every Minute Counts

Here are some ways to help yourself stay motivated:

  • Walk with a friend. Connect over the phone if you can’t walk in the same place!
  • Walk your dog. It’s good for your furry friends, too.
  • Join a virtual challenge. Keep track of your distance and watch it add up to a walk up Mt.Fuji or along the John Muir Trail.
  • Instagram your daily walks, showing off the views you see each day.
  • Make your walk a daily habit. Choose a specific time or occasion, like after a meal, and stick with it.
  • Think of yourself as a walker. Make it part of your identity.
  • Choose special shoes or clothing.

Getting into the habit can be a challenge, but it’s worth it! Your brain will thank you.