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How Walking can Build Up the Brain

According to a new study of walking, dancing and brain health; exercise can freshen and renovate the white matter in our brains. This physical activity can potentially improve our ability to think and remember as we age.

Recent studies have shown that older men and women who have walked consistently for six months have shown improvements in the white matter and memory of their brains, while those who participated in other forms of exercise did not. The study shows that white matter, which connects and supports the cells in our brains, remodels itself when people become more physically active. In those who remain sedentary, on the other hand, white matter tends to fray and shrink.


The idea that adult brains can be malleable is a recent finding; most researchers before the 1990's believed human brains were physically fixed and inflexible after early childhood. Scientist once believed that we were born with most of the brain cells we would ever have, and could not make more. If this were actually the case, the structure and function of our brains would only decline with age.


Thankfully, science has advanced and revisited the idea of the structure and function of the human brain over time. Complex studies using specialized dyes to identify newborn cells indicate that some parts of the brain create neurons deep into adulthood. This process of creating neurons is known as neurogenesis.


Follow up studies have established that exercise indeed amplifies neurogenesis. For example, when rodents run on a wheel, they pump out three or four times as many new brain cells as inactive animals; while in people, starting a routine of regular exercise leads to greater brain volume. Overall, this research shows that our brains retain lifelong plasticity, changing as we do, including in response to how we exercise.


For more information on how exercise correlates with our memory and the production of white brain matter, visit: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/14/well/move/exercise-walking-brain-memory.html



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