How Walking Helps Your Brain
Updated March 30, 2018
Have you ever gone for a walk and ended it feeling energized yet relaxed, focused but still calm? You’re not alone. Walking has long been recognized as both an effective form of physical exercise, as well as a tool to help gain mental clarity.
We’ve known some of the physical benefits of walking for quite some time now – it’s good for your heart, works your muscles, improves circulation – the list goes on. But what’s becoming more and more prevalent are the positive effects walking can have on brain health.
For starters, we’ve known that walking helps improve oxygen flow to the brain. Maintaining even a moderate pace increases our heart rate and causes us to breathe deeper. Those deep breaths help more oxygen get into the bloodstream. With the heart pumping faster, our circulation increases and more oxygen gets to the brain.
But, new research has suggested that it’s not just our hearts that are responsible for blood flow to the brain. New Mexico Highlands University looked at 12 healthy young adults and measured the impact of blood flowing upward as they walked.
The researchers found that the impact from hitting our feet on the ground while walking sends a hydraulic wave upward through our bodies. This wave is actually strong enough to send blood back up through our arteries, increasing blood flow to the brain.
Higher impact activities, like running, have been studied in the past finding similar results, but this measurable result is new territory when it comes to walking. Alternatively, cycling has also been studied without the same results, suggesting the root of this phenomenon is in the impact of feet hitting the ground.
More oxygen getting to the brain is a good thing. Our brains use about 20% of our body’s total oxygen supply, so if we’re not getting enough oxygen up there, it’s easy to feel “foggy” or unfocused.
On top of that, about a third of the brain is made up of blood vessels, so it’s no wonder that substantial blood flow is important to brain health. In fact, increased blood flow to the brain is linked to better cognitive function, improved memory, and overall protection against decline.
The good news is, walking more is a relatively accessible goal for most people. You don’t need to start running marathons to improve your health, you can start by simply going for a walk at lunch.
If you use a pedometer, 10,000 steps in a day is a great (but steep) goal. 10,000 steps averages out to about five miles. If that’s too drastic for you right now, try making a goal to increase your steps by 1,000 a day, which is roughly a half mile. In a month, you’ll be walking 14 miles more than you are today, which is bound to leave you feeling pretty good.
If you’re interested in finding other ways you can start to improve your health, feel free to sign up for our monthly newsletter, or check out our other blogs in the meantime. Then go for a walk!