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Taking That Hike: Why Walking is Good for You

Have you ever noticed that sitting around all day, staring at a computer screen or watching TV, tends to make you feel heavy and perhaps even a bit morose? Take heart! There is a cure for this malaise.

Take a hike. Literally.

New research shows that when your foot hits the ground, it sends a pressure wave through your body, which increases blood flow to your brain and produces a steady rhythm that aids in thinking and creativity.

Walking is a potent medicine that lifts your mood, sharpens memory, enhances thinking and extends the life of your brain. Let’s explore some of these benefits:

Walking Lifts Your Mood

In a recent study conducted on hundreds of college students, researchers found that just walking 12 minutes resulted in an increase in joviality, vigor, attentiveness and self-confidence. And in another study of almost 2,000 depressed middle-aged women revealed that those women who walked a total of 200 minutes or more weekly had more energy, socialized more and felt better emotionally.

Where you walk has a profound impact on your mental health, too. Researchers from Stanford have found that walking in nature decreased blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex of the brain, resulting in participants being calmer and less likely to ruminate over their lives than those participants who walked along a highway or other high-traffic urban areas.

Walking Sharpens Memory

A German study found that young adults performed better on a working memory task when they were allowed to walk at their preferred speed and concluded that the improvements in cognition might be caused by exercise-induced activation of resources. Another German study found that learning new foreign language vocabulary during walking helped participants to retain the words longer.

One of the areas of the brain that responds strongly to exercise is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is at the core of the brain’s learning and memory systems. Several experiments in children, adults and the elderly show that this structure grows as people become more physically fit. This explains, in part, why memory is improved through cardiovascular fitness.

Walking Improves Concentration and Enhances Creativity

Recent research shows that walking improves executive function, which is our ability to switch tasks efficiently, ignore distractions, make plan, etc. Gains are higher in older adults than younger adults. A study conducted in Denmark found that exercising before school helped children concentrate better in class. Those children who walked or cycled to school scored substantially higher in tests that measure concentration than those where driven to school or used public transportation.

Another added bonus of walking is that creativity is improved by as much as 60% when walking just five to 16 minutes versus sitting.

Walking Extends the Life of Your Brain

A study, which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that older adults with mild cognitive impairment were able to improve their reaction times and improve brain function by walking three hours per week for six months.

Scientists have studied actual physical changes in the brain concluded that walking enhances the overall plasticity of the brain, the ability to form new connections. Walking reduces the effects of aging by preventing gray matter in the brain from shrinking.

Best of All, Walking is Free

Thomas Jefferson once quipped, “Of all exercises, walking is best.” You do not need any special equipment or training to take advantage of this mood lifting, memory sharpening, brain-life extending exercise. No tricks, no special techniques. Best of all, it is free. Your only cost is the time you invest into it, which is time invested in your health, especially your mental well-being.