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Walk for Better Brain Health

I am reading a book about the history of walking. It is full of great quotes from famous people like Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Thomas Jefferson. What I find interesting is that most of these quotes focus more on the benefits walking has for the mind rather than the body.

Walking is indeed one of the easiest and most accessible forms of physical activity for most people and there is a large body of research that supports its health benefits for our body. These include burning calories, improving heart health, preventing diabetes, easing joint pain, and improving immune function. But there is also quite a bit of research to show how walking can improve the health of our brain. Here are some of the ways that walking affects the way our brain works:

Reduces stress – Walking increases norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress.

Boost happiness – The act of walking, and physical activity in general, releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Exercise can even alleviate symptoms of depression. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills.

Prevent cognitive decline – Walking boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.

Alleviate anxiety - The chemicals that are released during and after exercise can help people with anxiety disorders calm down.

Boost brainpower - Cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells and improve overall brain performance by increasing levels of a brain-derived protein in the body that helps with decision making, higher thinking, and learning.

Sharpen memory - Regular walking increases production of cells in the hippocampus responsible for memory and learning.

While some of these benefits are derived from the production of hormones that influence our mental health, scientists have uncovered another mechanism that explains how walking contributes to the structural health of our brain. They have learned that the impact of our feet hitting the ground has a hydraulic effect that increases and controls the amount of blood sent to the brain.

And since decreased blood flow to your brain is associated with an increased risk of dementia, depression, and stroke it makes sense that walking could help to improve the health of your brain and reduce your risk factor for these conditions.

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