By: Frederick C. Surgent
One of the best exercises for maintaining a healthy brain and body is aerobic exercise. Unfortunately, a good percentage of the population is not interested in aerobic exercise or any exercise for that matter. Making the situation even worse is the fact that many people over the age of 30 are less likely to participate in any physical activity. Reasons for this lack of interest in physical activity are many: time, family, expense, commitment, motivation, etc. However, one activity that everyone can do without an excuse is walking.
There is no excuse for not walking sometime during the day. Walking is like no other form of exercise. It only requires getting off the gluteus maximums (rear end), standing in a vertical position and putting one foot in front of the other in a repetitive motion. What’s unique about this activity is the ease in which it can be done. There is no running to the fitness center to change clothes, worrying about the workout itself, working up a sweat, putting up with being uncomfortable when pushing to continue a workout, trying to motivate yourself to get going to get to the fitness facility and then to exercise and a host of other problems associated with this scenario.
We all know the physiological benefits of aerobic exercise, stronger heart, lower blood pressure, decrease in osteoporosis, reduction in diabetes, decrease in weight and obesity, stronger skeletal system, more efficient respiratory system, stronger muscular system, decrease in certain forms of cancer, etc. What you may not have known are some of psychological benefits, especially to the brain. Here are a few of them.
Walking has a positive effect on reducing stress and anxiety. Today’s world, with its fast-paced technological orientation, presents many problems not encountered in the past. Things are moving so fast that it is hard to keep up with the changes. Because of these changes and the troubled world in which we live, we are faced with a great deal of stress and anxiety for which there is little to no outlet. Simply taking a walk can provide the participant with a means to forget the problems of the world and let the brain freely think about things that interest the walker.
Walking has a positive effect on the brain. Some of the more prominent effects are:
The hippocampus increases in size. Since this organ is extremely important in learning and memory, it is incumbent for everyone to participate in some form of aerobic activity. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia continue to increase in society. Maintaining a strong hippocampus can reduce the chances of these diseases affecting the participant.
There is an increase in blood flow to the brain. Such an increase helps to maintain a healthy brain, along with providing oxygen and nutrients necessary for optimal performance.
Walking increases brain thickness. The greater the volume of the brain the more neurons and synapses for connecting with other neurons.
Walking increases Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor. This factor is responsible for neurogenesis (the regeneration of neurons in the brain) and helping to maintain existing neurons.
Walking improves the plasticity of the brain. Plasticity is defined as the ability to reorganize itself by modifying neuron connections to deal with learning, memory and motor skill acquisition.
Walking has been shown to be a positive treatment for the contemporary neurological diseases of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The rhythmic, repetitive motion of walking provides the participant with a calming effect not found in sport activities. Because of this rhythmic movement, the walker may have a chance of entering a trance-like state. This may not happen on all walks, but if approached with a relaxed state, remaining calm, staying in the moment and letting the brain create its own thoughts there is a good possibility it could happen.
When walking with others, the chances of this happening are far less because the brain is occupied with relating to others. However, the benefits of walking with others may form friendships and social interactions, which is of utmost importance in maintaining a good mental health outlook.
Walking is an excellent exercise for reducing depression. A significant number of the population suffer from depression. Some research has demonstrated that exercise is just as effective treating depression as medication and in some cases better. Some countries use exercise as a first line of defense in treating depression.
Walking helps modulate neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine to regulate mood.
As can be seen from the information presented above, there are many benefits to walking. It is easy to do. It doesn’t involve competition, pain, fatigue or struggle. It should be a part of everyone’s daily routine, just like simple life events (sleeping, eating, reading, etc.). Furthermore, with so many problems associated with chronic diseases, neurological problems (dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.) stress, anxiety and depression so rampant in our society, walking should be considered the miracle drug that everyone embraces to ease these modern-day problems and maintain a healthy life style.