The quick answer: For better memory, try and remember to walk.
I suppose you’ve noticed how I’ve come under the power of readers who make comments. For the third year now, our focus is helping people “eat smarter, look better, and live longer.” Those who comment shape our thinking and guide the research.
So we appreciated the comment in the last post, from a woman who walks 5K daily. "Walking," she said, "helped me through the passing of my husband." She also finds it a good anti-depressant, one with beneficial side effects.
She also, ahem, gave this compliment: “Love the blog; looked a long time for W of W sensibility before I found it. Thank you.”
Sensibility! All this led me to this Biblical thought on a recent walk: We should exercise as Jesus did—by walking. You learn when you walk and ponder; think of the teachings Jesus delivered during walks.
We know walking is good for the body, but what helps the brain? A NY Times article, “How Exercise Could Lead to a Better Brain,” summarized a recent study. There is a link between exercise and the genes in brain cells, even in laboratory mice. One study of elderly mice found 117 genes that expressed differently when the mice ran, rather than sit around.
Running isn’t the best exercise for many people but walking is also beneficial. A recent one-year study assigned 120 older people to one of two exercises: stretching or walking.
Though there are benefits to both exercises (stretching, for example, has been found to improve vascular health) walking was uniquely good for the brain. The hippocampus is the part of our brain involved in storing and organizing short-term memory. Starting about age 20, we lose about 1% of our hippocampus each year. The hippocampus is one of the first areas damaged by Alzheimer’s disease.
In this study the group who walked actually reversed hippocampal shrinkage. In one year of walking they regained two years of hippocampus loss. In addition, the walkers had higher levels of BDNF, a chemical that creates and organizes new brain cells. The walkers also performed better on cognitive tests.
Want a younger brain with better memory? Walk! Or better yet, dance. Dancing is like walking, but also involves coordination with a partner, and other nice things.
I know the theme of this week is exercise, but I think you readers understand this quite well. So, in the next post we'll revisit fats—healthy and unhealthy. I think 2013 might be the year Americans forget what they’ve been told and really figure out fats.