A recent two-part BBC documentary explored the latest scientific research into how to stay young in both body and mind. Episode 2 concentrated particularly on helping the brain to stay young. The findings, statistics and latest advice made a fascinating watch and it revealed good news for walkers!
By age 70, on average people will have lost a fifth of their brain capacity, but as with all things this varies significantly from person to person. Of all the factors that account for these variations, about a quarter are down to genetics, meaning upbringing and lifestyle play the largest part. This is good news, as it means that we can all take steps to help retain our mental capacity as we age.
Exercise is an important factor in maintaining brain health. Exertion generally helps with blood flow to the brain. But is seems that some forms of exercise are particularly good for maintaining brain health. Volunteers were tested on their mental skills such as memory, reaction speed, planning, prioritising and emotional well-being. Half the volunteers were asked to undertake one hour of brisk walking twice per week, whilst the other half were asked to undertake one hour of table tennis twice per week. The walkers showed the most significant improvement in terms of cognition (thinking skills) and in the number of neurons (leading to a boost of memory and ability to learn), whilst those that learnt the new skill of table tennis showed the most significant improvement in terms of the cortex or grey matter (responsible for complex thinking). In terms of emotional well-being, both groups improved but the sociable aspect of table tennis created a more significant impact. The conclusion… if you can fit in regular walking alongside a sociable class where you learn a new skill (perhaps dance, art or music), you will see the best balance of improvements.
Other important factors for supporting brain function in older people identified by the programme included living in a culture with respect for elders, diet (particularly the inclusion of purple sweet potato, blackcurrants, blueberries and aubergine - high in anthocyanins which supports blood vessels), counteracting stress, learning new skills (particularly a new language), education and mental challenge.
So walking is not just about helping your well-being in the here and now, it is also an excellent way of protecting your metal well-being for the future. So what are you waiting for…walking boots at the ready!
25 April 2016