Walking for Exercise:
Fun for a Better Memory

By M. Chris Wolf, PH.D.

Walking for exercise is known as a great way to lose weight and stay fit. A recent National Institute of Health funded study demonstrated that walking at a brisk pace increases the size of the hippocampus, a region of the brain where memories form. The authors of the study showed that 40 minutes of brisk walking can not only help maintain memory function as one ages, but also to can reverse some memory loss in older adults.

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The Study

The researchers divided older adults, who reported they did not exercise, in the study into two groups: the first group began an exercise regime, which involved walking for exercise around a track for 40 minutes at a brisk pace three times a week; the second group began an exercise regime of stretching exercises. At the end of the one-year study, each member of the study had an MRI; lab work to measure the level of brain derived neuropathic factor (BDNF); and a spatial memory test. BDNF is a chemical associated with the formation of memories.

The results of the study showed the people in the group that walked three times a week showed a two percent increase in hippocampus size, increased levels of BDNF and improvement on their memory test scores. The people in the group who engaged in the stretching exercises showed a 1.4 percent decrease in hippocampus size, decreased levels on BDNF, and a statistically insignificant improvement on the spatial memory test.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that walking for exercise could serve to improve memory as well as slow memory loss in adults as they age. (Alabaster, 2011).

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Other Benefits of Walking for Exercise

Walking is also great for memory in that aerobic exercise increases blood circulation in the brain, which carries oxygen and other nutrients essential for optimal cognitive functioning. People who tend to feel depressed benefit from walking as it is shown to alleviate symptoms of depression, including the cognitive symptoms of difficulty concentrating and memory problems.

When walking with others, a person engages in social activity that also benefits fitness for the brain. Walking outdoors also provides a change of scenery, which also serves to stimulate the brain.

Many older people feel a sense of isolation and walking provides an opportunity to meet others in their neighborhood and to form friendships in their community. In these difficult economic times, walking is a form of exercise that does not require a financial investment.

Given all the health benefits associated with walking, take some time to take a walk with your friends and family.


Alabaster, A. (2011, February). Moderate Exercise May Improve Memory in Older Adults. Retrieved October 14, 2011, from National Institute of Health Research Matters: http://www.nih.gov/researchmatters/february2011/02282011exercise.htm

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For more information about this topic consider these resources:

Walking: A Complete Guide to the Complete Exercise [Paperback]by Casey Meyers

Fitness Walking for Dummies [Paperback]by Liz Neporent

Leslie Sansone - Older Adults Walk & Firm by Leslie Sansone (Actor) | Rated: NR | Format: DVD

Go from Walking for Exercise to Brain Fitness


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