Movement is one of the most powerful ways to reduce your future risk cognitive decline. In fact, brisk walking was the first physical activity that was shown to increase the size of the hippocampus – the area of the brain critical for memory and dealing with stress – in older adult humans! In that study, participants who were randomised to walk briskly for 40 min three times per week saw an increase in the size of the hippocampus compared to a control group after a year.
Participants started with the 10 minutes of walking, increased it by 5 minutes every week, and then increased speed as the got more comfortable. In addition to walking, almost any exercise can improve brain health, and one of the ways it does that is through the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). In the walking study, the more a person’s fitness improved, the higher their BDNF was, and the greater the benefit for their brain.
The authors of that study suggest that 40 minutes of aerobic training like brisk walking 3 times per week was enough to reverse many of the effects of aging on the brain. Even 30 minutes three times a week, or 1.5 hours of any exercise that gets your heart rate up – walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, active gardening – counts. What can you do this week?