How Many Steps Should You Walk Daily for a Healthy Brain?

Most people think that memory problems and cognitive impairment are just a couple of the things we can look forward to as we age. But a growing body of research shows that a healthy lifestyle can help protect us from the brain effects of aging. One of the simple things we can do to boost brain health involves walking more. While most of us know there are many health benefits of walking regularly, few people know that brain health is one of the rewards.

Researchers at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California set to work to determine how much exercise in the form of walking we need to help maintain a healthy brain. Published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the researchers explored exactly how much exercise we need to reap the brain health benefits of walking.

Study participants aged 60 and above with memory complaints but no dementia, were divided into two groups: those who walked 4000 steps or fewer daily and those who walked 4000 steps over a two-year period. The researchers then used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests to assess the volume and thickness of a part of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is involved in memory, learning and emotion. They found that the magic number is over 4000 steps daily. The study participants that were in the high activity group of walking more than 4000 steps daily had thicker hippocampi than those who walked less, as well as better attention, speedier information processing and better working memory to help make spontaneous decisions.

It’s not surprising that walking fuels our brain. After all, exercise increases oxygen-rich blood to the brain, which provides both the oxygen and nutrients the brain needs to function properly.

So how can you benefit from the research? I’m imagining a shampoo commercial here: for a thicker, fuller hippocampus, strap on a step counter and be sure to walk more than 4000 steps every day. While there is obviously no exact distance since everyone’s stride is different, it approximately works out to a little over 2 miles every day.

Easy Ways to Walk More 

Obviously you can just strap on your best walking shoes and hit the pavement, but even if you’re averse to exercise, small changes to your daily routine can add up to a lot of extra steps taken each day. Here are some suggestions to help you get started.

-Walk to work

-Go for a walk on your lunch break

-Take the stairs instead of the elevator

-Pace the room while you’re on the phone

-Walk around your living room or in place whenever there are television commercials on

-Park a few rows from your destination rather than right by the door

-Get off a stop early on your bus or subway route and walk the remaining distance

-Go for an after dinner stroll

-Arrive early at your next appointment and take a walk around the block while you’re waiting

-Take an extra lap of the mall before you head out

-Walk to complete your errands

-Set an alarm on your computer and do a lap of your office floor or around your yard (if you work from home) every hour or two

-After a restaurant meal out, go for a stroll before heading home

-Take the scenic route…on foot


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