As little as 40 minutes walking three times a week boosts brain connectivity and function, research finds.
The study involved “professional coach potatoes”, as one scientist described them.
The 65 individuals, who were aged between 59 and 80, did very little exercise.
None had done more than 30 minutes exercise in the last six months on more than two occasions.
All of them joined one of two groups:
- Walking at their own pace for 40 minutes three times a week.
- Stretching and toning for the same period.
The researchers used brain scans to look at how the whole brain worked together.
Professor Art Kramer, who led the study, explained the reasoning:
“Almost nothing in the brain gets done by one area — it’s more of a circuit.
These networks can become more or less connected.
In general, as we get older, they become less connected, so we were interested in the effects of fitness on connectivity of brain networks that show the most dysfunction with age.”
The researchers found that connectivity increased significantly among those who had been walking, but not in the stretching and toning group.
Cognitive tests also showed their brains were performing better.
Professor Kramer said:
“The higher the connectivity, the better the performance on some of these cognitive tasks, especially the ones we call executive control tasks — things like planning, scheduling, dealing with ambiguity, working memory and multitasking.”
With age people’s so-called default mode network becomes less coordinated with the rest of the brain.
The default mode network kicks in when we aren’t concentrating on much and our minds start to wander.
When there’s something to pay attention to, though, the default mode network is supposed to power down.
This switch tends to work less well with age and dementia, said Michelle Voss, the study’s first author:
“For example, people with Alzheimer’s disease tend to have less activity in the default mode network and they tend to have less connectivity.”
This study shows that even a relatively modest amount of exercise can help enhance the connectivity of vital brain structures.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience (Voss et al., 2010).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Brain image from Shutterstock