Good news for active adults–brisk walking improves memory by increasing the size of a brain region directly responsible for processing information to be stored.  This has promising implications for preventing age-related cognitive degeneration seen in Alzheimer’s disease.

The hippocampus region of the brain grew by 2% in study subjects that walked briskly.  The study, led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, looked at 120 sedentary people, aged 55 to 80.  They were divided into two groups: Half began a program of walking for 40 minutes a day, three days a week to increase their heart rate; the others only did stretching and toning exercises.

Memory improved in both groups, showing that physical activity in general has cognitive effects.   Preliminary studies have shown that aerobic exercise leads to reduce brain atrophy in early-stage Alzheimer’s patients, and that walking leads to slight improvement on mental tests among older people with memory problems.

The hippocampus is known to shrink slightly in people as they age, and this is, in fact, what happened to the stretch-only group.  The brisk walk group, though, did show increases in hippocampal size, leading researchers to believe this physiological effect sustains memory.

Kirk Erickson, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and thepaper’s lead author, said in a statement, “The results of our study are particularly interesting in that they suggest that even modest amounts of exercise by sedentary older adults can lead to substantial improvements in memory and brain health.

So get up and start walking, folks.  It’s never too late.  What you do today might just preserve your marbles for another couple decades.  So just do it–walk!..for the health of your hippocampus.

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