Walking Was Just Linked to Better Brain Health—Especially as You Age

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It's no secret that exercise has remarkable effects on our overall health. From fighting off cardiovascular disease to helping with bone density, exercising is an important way to maintain our overall health and wellness. But a new study of people in their eighties has found that simple movement—in the form of walking—is linked to a boost in brain health.

Research published in the November issue of the Journal of Neuroscience shares the exciting links between movement later in life and synaptic and cognitive aging. As part of the study, Chicagoans in their eighties tracked their daily activity and movement and participated in annual memory tests. Researchers found that, when comparing the health of their microglia cells (the immune cells in the central nervous system responsible for brain infections and inflammation) to their activity level, those with more active lifestyles had overall healthier brains and were less likely to show signs of Alzheimer's disease.

Hold off before you try to convince your bestie to start training for a marathon—although more power to you and your friend if you do that. Seeing real benefits from movement didn’t necessarily mean that participants had rigorous fitness regimens. The study shares that movement, in general, is all it takes, rather than prolonged exercise. Simply walking can keep you sharp as a tack as you age.

“Physical activity relates to better cognitive aging and reduced risk of neurodegenerative disease,” the study says. “These are the first data supporting microglial activation as a physiological pathway by which physical activity relates to brain heath in humans.”

Even knowing this, we're not still fully sure why or how exercise contributes to better brain function. While the results leaned heavily toward the correlation between good brain health and moving about or going on a walk versus staying seated, the actual reasoning for a healthier neurological response is still in question. The study explains that more work is needed to dive deeper into this big question. But one thing is for sure: Movement seems to do just as much for your mental health as it does for your physical health. Now let’s go get some fresh air!

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