It’s well-established that physical fitness is good for your body, but more recently, scientists have been putting out a lot more studies on the various ways that regular exercise can actually support brain health and improve our mental state. All forms of physical fitness come with benefits—whether you’re running, lifting weights, circuit training, or doing yoga, they all provide great benefits for your body and mind. One of the most accessible forms of exercise is walking, and we’re still studying just how much impact walking has on our minds and bodies. There are already a lot of known ways that walking supports brain health, especially in aging adults.
Get a Healthy Dose of Feel-Good Brain Chemicals
Studies have shown that walking provides an influx of feel-good chemicals in the brain—serotonin, dopamine, and endorphin production are all increased. This is true even with just a 20-minute walk.
For an added benefit, take your walk outdoors! While science is still working to fully understand the relationship between the human brain and its exposure to nature, studies have shown that “green spaces” and time spent outdoors provide significant mental health benefits. It’s never a bad idea to get out of your house for a little while and enjoy some sunshine and fresh air. Doing so can significantly boost the benefits you get from every walk. You can look for various trails and walking paths and rotate which ones you visit, so you’re able to change your scenery around and prevent your nature walks from becoming stale.
Walking Reduces Stress
The world we live in today produces a lot of stress for many people, leading to a decline in overall health and brain health. According to a 2022 survey by the American Psychological Association, current factors that are leading to high levels of stress for many adults include inflation, the current political climate, violence, and other factors. Focusing on these issues can cause significant problems in everyday life, but walking can help to clear your mind and maintain a healthy brain.
Less Stress Leads to Better Brain Health
When people are stressed, their brains experience an increase in cortisol production. High levels of cortisol, especially if those levels are regularly increased, can actually lead to cell damage in the hippocampus that causes memory impairment, inability to focus, and a decline in cognitive flexibility. As bodies age, the hippocampus actually shrinks—this is also a reason for cognitive decline, but walking can actually help to slow this down, so it’s combatting two causes of mental degradation at once!
Evidence Shows Walking May Support Brain Cell Health
Aerobic exercise, which includes walking, has been linked to brain cell health, as well as the growth of new cells. According to Patrick Smith, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “…aerobic forms of exercise likely help facilitate the growth of new neurons.” This is based on a finding that showed aerobic exercise helps your body produce more brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF. This important protein supports cell health and the growth of brand new cells, maintaining cognitive function and supporting better brain health.
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