Neal D. Johnson,M.D.

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40-minute walk per day can improve the memory

Even a year of brisk walking can reverse memory loss associated with aging.

Every year, the hippocampus, a structure in the brain associated with memory, shrinks by 1% to 2% leading to dementia (loss of cognitive function) such as in Alzheimer’s disease.

In a recent study that appeared in the January 31, 2011 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studied 120 older adults aged 55 to 80. Half of them were being made to walk three times a week at a slightly faster speed than normal walking, while the other half were made to do only stretching and toning exercises. They found the hippocampus grew in size by 2% among the aerobic walking exercise group. On the other hand, the stretching group demonstrated a 1.4% decline in hippocampal volume over a one-year interval.

The study seems to suggest hippocampal growth with increased aerobic fitness. And as shown in spatial memory tests, the aerobic exercise group showed better memory performance. This led the scientists to believe that the exercise-induced hippocampus growth is directly related to improved memory function.

Memory loss due to aging, therefore, is not inevitable and memory deterioration can still be reversed even with moderate amounts of exercise. Starting an exercise regimen late in life to reinvigorate the mind is not futile after all. This finding could also offer a chance for the aging population to lower the cost of healthcare for brain disease treatment and prevention.

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