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Kendra Cherry

New Study Suggests Walking Improves Brain Function

By August 31, 2010

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Here's one more reason to avoid being a couch potato - a new study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience has found that walking at a moderate pace for 40 minutes three times a week can improve connectivity in the brain, increase performance on cognitive tasks and battle the decline in brain function caused by aging.

walking
A new study suggests walking can improve brain connectivity.

In the study, 65 previously sedentary adult participants between the ages of 59 and 80 joined either a walking group or a stretching group for a period of one year. Researchers looked at regions of the brain that function as a network rather than focusing on activity in specific brain structures. Why? "Almost nothing in the brain gets done by one area -- it's more of a circuit," explained researcher Art Kramer, University of Illinois psychology professor and Beckman Institute Director. "These networks can become more or less connected. In general, as we get older, they become less connected, so we were interested in the effects of fitness on connectivity of brain networks that show the most dysfunction with age."

One network of key interest in this study is known as the default mode network (DMN). Earlier research had shown that declines in the DMN were associated with aging and could even be an indicator of diseases such as Alzheimers. Using functional magnetic imaging (fMRI), researchers found DMN connectivity had increased significantly for participants in the walking group, but not so for those in the stretching group. People in the walking group also performed significantly better on cognitive tests than those in the stretching group. "The higher the connectivity, the better the performance on some of these cognitive tasks, especially the ones we call executive control tasks -- things like planning, scheduling, dealing with ambiguity, working memory and multitasking," Kramer said.

Learn more about this study:

If you're interested in starting your own walking regimen, then be sure to check out the Walking site here at About.com. Guide Wendy Bumgardner has tons of great tips and resources to help you get started:

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Reference:
Voss, M.W. and others. (2010). Plasticity of brain networks in a randomized intervention trial of exercise training in older adults. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2010.00032

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