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Grow More Brains with Three of These

Grow More Brains with Three of These

Our brains naturally shrink as we get older. But you can reverse the trend with just three of these: walks.

Research shows that walking just three times a week for 40-minute stints can help people hang on to more of their gray matter.

Turning back the clock
In particular, walking seems to help preserve the hippocampus—a memory-making part of the brain. In older adults who do not have dementia, the hippocampus normally shrinks about 1 to 2 percent per year, which gradually increases the risk of cognitive impairment. But in a recent study, a year of dedicated moderate-intensity walking resulted in about a 2 percent increase in volume, which researchers say is about the equivalent to rewinding the brain-aging clock about 1 to 2 years. In the study, older adults who were not regular exercisers were assigned to year-long exercise programs focusing on either walking or doing a combination of stretching and toning three times a week. After a year, imaging scans of the brain showed that hippocampus volume increased in the walkers but actually decreased a bit in the stretchers and toners.

Brain-saving steps
With the increase in brain volume, blood levels of an important memory-supporting protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor also increased—which probably helps explain why the walkers who had bigger-than-average brains at the outset and achieved the greatest volume increase during the study intervention also made the biggest improvements on spatial memory tests. Researchers think that aerobic exercise helps boost brain matter because it increases blood flow to the brain. Studies have also shown that walking can help increase the brain's ability to learn, retain, and use new information.

Learn surefire ways to keep walking when you don't have the time or the desire.

Medically reviewed in June 2018.

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