Walking helps keep body and brain young

Mon Sep 13, 2010 6:06am EDT
 
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By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Everyone knows that walking limbers the aging body, but did you know it keeps the mind supple as well?

Research shows that walking can actually boost the connectivity within brain circuits, which tends to diminish as the grey hairs multiply.

"Patterns of connectivity decrease as we get older," said Dr. Arthur F. Kramer, who led the study team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"Networks aren't as well connected to support the things we do, such as driving," he said. "But we found as a function of aerobic fitness, the networks became more coherent."

Kramer's walking study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, tracked 70 adults from 60 to 80 years old over the course of a year. A toning, stretching, strengthening group served as a control against which to evaluate the previously sedentary walkers.

"Individuals in the walking group, the aerobics training group, got by far the largest benefits," he said, and not just physically.

"We also measured brain function," said Kramer, whose team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain networks. A group of 20-to-30-year olds were tested for comparison.

"The aerobic group also improved in memory, attention and a variety of other cognitive processes," Kramer said. "As the older people in the walking group became more fit, the coherence among different regions in the networks increased and became similar to those of the 20-yr olds," Kramer explained.   Continued...

 
<p>A woman walks in front of an advertisement for a clothing store in Tokyo September 10, 2010. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao</p>