One of the long standing mantras here at Brain Fitness for Life is the positive correlation between staying active and maintaining your cognitive ability as you age. This week a U.S. News & World Report article titled Attention, Couch Potatoes! Walking Boosts Brain Connectivity, Function gave details of a recent cognitive study published in the Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience about this very topic, and how just getting off the couch and going for a walk can help your brain fitness.
The Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience study looked at brain level activity and the strength of brain circuitry in elderly sedentary individuals after engaging in different types of physical exercise over the course of a year.
University of Illinois psychology professor and Beckman Institute Director, Art Kramer, leader of the study said, “Almost nothing in the brain gets done by one area – it’s more of a circuit These networks can become more or less connected. In general, as we get older, they become less connected, so we were interested in the effects of fitness on connectivity of brain networks that show the most dysfunction with age.”
The researchers followed 65 adults, aged 59 to 80. These participants, who previously were quite inactive (reporting they had less than two episodes of physical activity lasting 30 minutes or more in the previous six month period), either joined a weekly walking group or stretching and toning group. The researchers also measured brain activity in 32 younger (18 to 35 year old) adults for comparison.
At the end of the study, there was enough evidence to suggest that even moderate exercise can improve the connectivity of significant brain circuits. We all have several distinct circuits within our brain. In Dr. Kramer’s study he and his team focused on the default mode network (DMN), which is the brain network that dominates the brain activity when a person is daydreaming, dazed, or otherwise disengaged with the outside world. Prior scientific studies have shown that a loss of coordination in the DMN is a common symptom of cognitive decline.
Dr. Kramer’s findings suggest that walking seems to engage and strengthen the DMN, which in turn improves brain activity. Unfortunately, the group that engaged in stretching and toning did not see the same cognitive benefit, which suggests that some aerobic exercise is necessary for optimal brain health. So this Labor Day Weekend don’t just sit around the BBQ, find a friend and go for a nice walk. Your brain will thank you!