A brisk walk a few times a week has been linked to better memory for senior citizens, researchers reported Monday.
The new study, which appears in Tuesday's edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that the section of the brain involved in memory grew in older people who took regular walks for a year. The research reinforces previous findings that aerobic exercise seems to reduce brain atrophy in early-stage Alzheimer's patients and that walking leads to slight improvement on mental tests among older people with memory problems.
The region of the brain involved in memory shrinks slightly with age. But researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Pittsburgh say even small amounts of exercise by seniors can improve their memory and brain health.
The study involved 120 sedentary people, ages 55 to 80. They were divided into two groups: Half began a program of walking for 40 minutes a day, three days a week to increase their heart rate; the others only did stretching and toning exercises.
Researchers found that there was some memory improvement in both groups, but "in the aerobic exercise group, increased hippocampal volume was directly related to improvements in memory performance."
"We think of the atrophy of the hippocampus in later life as almost inevitable," Kirk Erickson, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and the paper's lead author, said in a statement.