Is walking part of your regular routine? If it is, then you are doing your brain and memory a favour. There is mounting evidence that regular walking benefits the brain health of older adults.

The Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois recently reported the results of a study involving 120 sedentary people aged 55-80, which found that walking increased the size of the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is critical for new learning and creating long-term memories.

Study participants, who hadn't engaged in more than 30 minutes of exercise in the six months prior to the beginning of the study, took part in exercise groups for a year. Half were assigned to walk three days a week, starting out at just 10 minutes per day and gradually increasing to 40 minutes as their fitness levels improved. The other half did stretching and toning exercises for the same amount of time.

Participants were assessed at the start of the study, at six months into the study, and at the end of the year. The assessments included a test of spatial memory (memory related to one's environment and spatial orientation), a brain scan, measures of fitness level, and a blood test to measure levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF can be thought of as an essential fuel for the growth of new neurons (cells) in the brain.

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