February 1, 2011 in Nation/World

Study ties walking to improved memory in seniors

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A section of the brain involved in memory grew in size in older people who regularly took brisk walks for a year, researchers reported Monday.

The new study reinforces previous findings that aerobic exercise seems to reduce brain atrophy in early-stage Alzheimer’s patients, and that walking leads to slight improvement on mental tests among older people with memory problems.

The new analysis, led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, appears in today’s edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study involved 120 sedentary people, ages 55 to 80. They were divided into two groups: Half began a program of walking for 40 minutes a day, three days a week to increase their heart rate; the others only did stretching and toning exercises.

The hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in memory, tends to shrink slightly with age and that’s what happened in the group that only did stretching. But among people who took part in the walking program, the hippocampus region of the brain grew in size by roughly 2 percent.

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