If you ever need a little extra push to get up and go for a walk, today we have it for you. Two studies have identified remarkable benefits for the brain and body that you can get just from walking.
As Savers know, walking is a weight-bearing activity that stimulates bone growth. Today's article will address the science behind that, as well as the two benefits confirmed by new research.
We'll take it one step at a time, and look closely at each of these studies so that you can apply their findings. Keep your walking shoes close by, because you're going to want to lace them up and get moving right away!
Walking To Grow Your Brain
Our brains don't stop changing and growing after childhood.
That fact was basically unknown until the late 90s when scientists began to reveal that neurogenesis— the process of new brain cell growth– doesn't cease in adulthood. Furthermore, certain activities can enhance this process, helping to maintain a healthy and robust brain into late life.
Groundbreaking new research has expanded our understanding of this process by looking at the impact of walking on the brain's white matter.
White matter is the name for the nerve cells that connect our other brain cells– the ones you may know as grey matter– to each other. They are coated in a waxy substance called myelin, which gives them their white coloration. This coating allows the cells to pass neural impulses at incredible speeds– facilitating lightning-fast brain function.
Researchers at Colorado State University set out to study this remarkable part of our brains by measuring 247 participants' aerobic fitness, cognitive health, and white matter cells.
Then, they divided the participants, who were all between the ages of 60 and 80, into four groups that were each assigned a different physical activity intervention. Each intervention consisted of three one-hour exercise sessions per week over 24 weeks. The groups were formed as follows:
- An active control group that did exercises aimed at improving flexibility, strength and balance, but not cardiovascular fitness.
- A walking group that participated in walking sessions designed to increase their heart rate, and grow more intense over time.
- A walking and nutrition group that followed the walking group's program, but also received a nutritional supplement of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, vitamins, and minerals.
- A dance group that learned and practiced aerobic dances that grew more challenging over time to increase cardiovascular fitness.
At the end of the 24 weeks, the participants in both of the walking groups and in the dance group had increased the amount of white matter in their brains. This shows that new growth of these important brain cells is not only possible but it can also be stimulated through aerobic exercise. Additionally, the participants in the aerobic walking group improved their performance on memory tests.1
Here is what the study's authors concluded:
“Our study provides evidence for white matter plasticity in older adults induced by aerobic walking and dance, measured as an increase in T1w/T2w signal. The findings suggest that the white matter in the adult brain retains plasticity in vulnerable regions and that these changes can be observed on a short-term scale.”1
A study of 247 adults between the ages of 60 and 80 found that walking, used as an aerobic exercise, can increase white matter in the brain, and improve memory function.
Walking To Save Your Life
A new study has found that sufficient daily walking kept participants' arteries healthy and reduced their risk of death by up to 70 percent.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst examined a group of 2,110 participants between the ages of 38 and 50. Each participant wore a step-counting accelerometer from 2005 to 2006.
The researchers then followed each participant for the next 11 years to see how their walking habits related to the risks of coronary artery disease. All of the participants took at least 7,000 steps a day– about three miles worth.
The mortality rate of black and white participants fell by 63 and 70 percent, respectively, when compared to their peers who were living a sedentary lifestyle. Deaths of male participants dropped by 58 percent, and deaths of women dropped by a staggering 72 percent.2 These outcomes were not significantly affected by the intensity of the steps.
This reduction in mortality risk, ranging from 50 to 70 percent, correlated with completing 7,000 steps per day. That's in contrast to the often-cited goal of 10,000 steps a day. However, this research found that taking more than 7,000 steps didn't confer additional reductions to the risk of death.2
A study that followed 2,110 middle-aged adults over 11 years found that taking at least 7,000 steps per day reduced participants' mortality risk by 50-70 percent.
Walking To Grow Your Bones
Savers already know that walking is good for bones. That's because it's a weight-bearing exercise. When you go for a walk, the pressure that you exert on your bones in the process directly stimulates the formation of new bone mass.
This relationship between applied force and the growth of bone, known as Wolff's Law, is your most powerful tool for building stronger and more resilient bones. Thanks to mechanosensitive bone cells, your body knows what parts of your bone are supporting your physical activity. It responds by making those bones stronger so that you can keep doing that activity safely.
Walking, and all forms of mobility, are essential to your independence. It turns out that the more you walk, the more able you are to keep walking. The studies examined above reinforce that. Not only does walking help your bones stay strong and capable of supporting you, but it helps keep you alive and well!
Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that stimulates the growth of bone. Wolff's Law describes this physical cause-and-effect, in which the force that a weight-bearing activity exerts on your bones stimulates the growth of new bone mass to support the continuation of that activity.
What This Means To You
Go for a walk! And not just today– make walking an intentional part of your exercise routine and daily habits. The results are remarkably clear; a habit of daily walks can keep your brain and arteries healthy and strong.
The Osteoporosis Reversal Program recommends doing weight-bearing exercise, like walking, on a regular basis to stimulate bone growth. So the findings above provide inspiring encouragement for Savers to keep up their practice of regular physical activity.
Challenge yourself to walk a little farther or a little more often than you usually do. Keep it up, and you'll be amazed at the results.