This is Your Brain on Walking

The general wellness perks of getting fresh air and exercise might be reason enough for you to tie up your shoes and get some steps. But here’s more good news about walking: a new study shows walking can benefit the brain. In research findings presented at Experimental Biology 2017, scientists found that the foot-to-ground impacts created during a walk may send pressure waves surging through your arteries, and ultimately increase the amount of blood sent to the brain.

Foot Impact Increases Blood Flow to the Brain

Previously, researchers weren’t really sure how much movement affected blood flow. Using ultrasound to measure internal carotid artery blood velocity waves, as well as arterial diameters to determine blood flow to both brain hemispheres, they were able to see what sorts of exercise mattered most. In 12 adult participants, they saw running increased blood flow to the brain more than walking, but walking was better than cycling, so foot impact made a difference.

Walking may be one of the simplest exercises around, but it can lead to significant health gains. According to Lynn Cialdella Kam, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine, a lot of the concerns affecting heart impact also affect brain health. “Brain health and blood flow can be altered by the inflammation associated with obesity, by hypertension, by glucose intolerance and more,” she explains.

Blood oxygenates vessels, which prevents cell death, improves cognitive functioning, and keeps conditions like dementia at bay. If the brain isn’t “breathing” well enough, you may see long-term problems. “Those health issues, that can affect the delivery of blood to the brain, may lead to more concerns like cognitive decline or stroke,” Kam says. Simply walking on a regular basis can help counter those problems.

Walking May Improve Cognitive Functioning

In addition, Kam says walking and exercise may increase levels of a critical protein in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (or BDNFs). “These BDNFs play a big role in the development of within-cell communications in the brain,” she explains. “If you can increase BDNFs, you can improve your cognitive functioning.”

Kam also thinks it’s impossible to dismiss the mental wellness effects of walking and regular exercise—even if you’re not training for a marathon, trying to make an Olympic team or in any way intense about it. “That change of pace, in taking a walk, can take you out of your regular environment and help you feel better,” she says. “You also get a rush of ‘feel good’ chemicals. People always talk about dopamine, but there’s also serotonin and norepinephrine.” That hormonal cocktail is like a calming, energizing pick-me-up shot that can power you through the remainder of your day.

Walk for 30 Minutes a Day, 5 Days a Week

So, walk. It’s easy, requires no equipment, and science is continuing to prove the endless ways stepping can benefit body and mind. “The standard recommendation is 30 minutes a day, five days a week, of moderate intensity exercise—of which walking would fit,” says Kam. “Just that, and you can feel like you’re doing something good for yourself, for your body, and making healthy choices. From a well-being perspective, feeling stronger and more capable can also lead to a higher quality of life.”

37 Comments   Join the Conversation

37 CommentsLeave a comment

    • I box and do personal training. But walking makes me feel the best. Especially when I walk with someone!! Love those endorphins!

    • Totally love walking, i walk most weeks 3 times average 5/ 10 kms each time, it makes you feel alive , heaps more energy, enjoy healthy food , not crave junk, helps over eating ( i dont do) makes you more aware of healthy nutritious choices.
      Gives that get up & go.
      Less tried, enjoy life more.
      I walk with a friend, also attend gym, yoga, pilates.
      You just need to make time not excuses
      Love my fit bit blaze, keeps me one step ahead.

  • I lost a stone and a half just by walking and it only took 3 months, i use fit bit every day to track my steps but I walk up hills to really get some good exercise and fresh air

  • I’ve been saying this for years (not the medical big words stuff) but that walking really is good for you. I often say to people who would like to begin a fitness regime but are afraid of ‘doing it all wrong’ – that they should just increase their daily steps and take it from there. From a personal perspective I am very fit and fully aware of my body’s daily requirements, etc, but when I can’t work out for whatever reason a brisk walk is what I always aim to do at the very least.

  • Very true. I started walking in earnest in November of last year. I was 446.6 lbs, and I could barely do 20 minutes. Today, I am down to 217.4 lbs, and I can walk 20 miles with relative ease. I sleep better, I feel better, and I no longer have critical health issues such as hypertension. I works.

  • I try to walk every morning because it makes me feel so much better for the day. It improves my outlook on the day and definitely improves my mental health as much as my physical health!

  • I’m a 56 year old mother of 4 grown children. Very healthy n into exercise but also very busy with my 2 full time jobs. My concern is how can I benefit with my exercise if I don’t have enough sleep. I live to go to the gym or run or just doing Fitbit walking of 25,000 strips a day.Am I doing too much? Please help me.

  • My wife is getting dementia and probably heading for alzheimers. It is in her family. She is doing puzzles and computer games. I try to walk with her every night. What else can be done?

  • I did not walk yesterday morning and I had a miserable day all day I normally walk 6 to 7 days a week I walked this morning and I had a beautiful day,,, I do believe that I was miserable yesterday because I did not walk

  • I find that walking is the best option for me, as I have osteoarthritis in my knees. I find that with my fitbit HR alta I walk more often than just sitting around the house moaning about my pain, so thanks fitbit for getting me moving more!

  • To Jenna Birch- I am 80 yrs old and I LINE DANCE 5 days a week for one hour. It is beneficial because we get exercise dancing, turning around, waving our arms, and mainly using our brain more than in any other dancing. If you know how to waltz in ballroom dancing than you can use it to any waltz music. In LINE DANCING each song is a different choreography for each waltz. All music is a different steps to dance so we know hundreds of dances. This uses our brain constantly so we are getting a workout much more than any other type dance. It improves our balance, our brain is active, our body is fully moving to polka’s, and rhythm dances which protect us from Alzheimers and also falls. In addition we are sharing with a group of Seniors every day at our Senior centers so the camaraderie is wonderful for all. Look into one of our classes some time. I also wear my FitBit 24 hrs a day and love it. Thank you.

  • Yes! – since my physio therapist said, ‘Walk, walk, walk!’, not only has my sciatica improved, but my general feeling of well-being too.

  • I’m 59 years young and I walk three miles four days a week and two the others( my “off” days). I was diagnosed with arthritis in both knees last winter, but I still walk anyway. The arthritis is not an issue. I feel great!

  • Unfortunately, in today’s suspect air quality due to fires/smoke and Chemtrails it may not be as healthy to walk in the open. We wal on a treadmill at the gym.

  • In coming along way to get to this point in my life .
    By in bracing enlightenment I am keeping grounded and in need of the best way to embrace my body .

  • Hi
    Since I got my Fitbit HR I have been walking 30 to 45 mins per day, I now find I have a very sore heal and walking each day only agrevates it even more.

    I wear very good walking good shoes, can you help me with your knowledge on why the very sore heal.

  • I walk 6 to 8 hours a day at my desk working on two PCs with 5 monitors from 3.2 to 4 miles an hour. At 61, I have never felt better. My resting heart rate is down to the upper 40s most days. Recently I spent a few days in the hospital, deflated lung, possible cracked ribs, from a fall with an 8 foot ladder and the ICU alarm kept going off when I would start to sleep, my resting heart rate was throwing a too low alarm. (Less than 3 days in the hospital (Counting ER time, even though I was given the idea that I would be there for at least 4 regular days, and probably an entire week.) I’ll never go back to sitting in an office chair. I would like a faster treadmill to slowly work past the 4mph limit of the one I have. I have had my LifeSpan Treadmill Desk for over 3 years and 8 months, burned out 2 motors, a control panel and stretched the Walking Belt beyond tightening (All Warranty replaced). Oh and I lost from 220 lbs down to 170 lbs…. And as the article says, I think I perform better, out of the box ideas come easier and debugging a web page due to upgrades is not the chore it once was.

  • I have never commented on any thing before. I am a 70 year old retired man. Three years ago I had a triple bypass surgery. Complications from surgery caused a stroke, two weeks later. The stroke left no lasting effects. My cardiologist never recommended rehab. I was totally out of condition, and overweight. After a couple of years I decided to do may own rehab and started walking. I lost weight and felt better. My son wanting to encourage me to continue bought me a Fitbit. I had never considered getting one. Wow, it has made the difference, reminding me to keep going. I feel better, have more endurance and have lost 40 pounds. I intend to keep going and going every day.

  • Walking also helps maintain weight and can lower blood pressure. I love it and feel it contributes to good mental health.

  • I walk while listening to audiobooks. Sometimes I don’t want to stop walking until the chapter is over. This way I manage to keep up reading and exercising without having to sacrifice any of them. And both make me feel good.

  • I will be 77 in November and my fitbit is a great motivational tool. I walked 4 miles this morning and as of today, my goal will be 10,000 steps/day. I still work with special ed kids so I must do my walking in the evenings but in Washington it rains a lot, so wish me luck

  • Hi,
    The article is so awesome and highly recommended to all those who want to be fit & healthy for lifelong. Needless to say that walking is the best exercise not only for physical fitness, however it affects brain most positively.

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