Walking counteracts brain atrophy in older adults

February, 2011
  • Walking 40 minutes a day three days a week prevented ‘normal’ atrophy in the brains of older adults.

Another study has come out proclaiming the cognitive benefits of walking for older adults. Previously sedentary adults aged 55-80 who walked around a track for 40 minutes on three days a week for a year increased the size of their hippocampus, as well as their level of BDNF. Those assigned to a stretching routine showed no such growth. There were 120 participants in the study.

The growth of around 2% contrasts with the average loss of 1.4% hippocampal tissue in the stretching group — an amount of atrophy considered “normal” with age. Although both groups improved their performance on a computerized spatial memory test, the walkers improved more.

The findings are consistent with a number of animal studies showing aerobic exercise increases neurogenesis and BDNF in the hippocampus, and human studies pointing to a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia in those who walk regularly.

Reference: 

[2097] Erickson, K. I., Voss M. W., Prakash R S., Basak C., Szabo A., Chaddock L., et al.
(Submitted).  Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.