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Oh, Go Take a Walk


Learn to enjoy walking, not for weight loss but for brain growth and mood elevation.  “Think on Your Feet” by award-winning writer Martha W. Murphy (AARP Bulletin, 5/23, p. 20) lays out five ways walking can help your mind and body.

  1. “Walking may help you grow new brain cells.” Who wouldn’t want new brain cells, especially as you’re aging? Brain cell increase occurs because walking “likely helps facilitate the growth of new neurons.”
  2. “Walking may boost your creativity.” It “increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain, which can open gates to enhanced creativity.” This is true of other aerobic activities as well. I’m sold: When I started swimming each morning, I began hearing songs in my head (note: I got a D in high school music). The songs simply wouldn’t stop coming. Try noodling (not worrying) a problem when you walk, run or swim and see what happens. “Creativity is a cognitive skill that is part of problem-solving.” 
  3. “Walking may enhance your mood.” This happens because when you walk, “a cocktail of feel-good neurotransmitters is released” by the brain. The light from walking outdoors also elevates mood. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, even a brief stroll is likely to make you feel calmer and more upbeat.
  4. “Walking may reduce the risk of cognitive decline.” The hippocampus, “responsible for memory, learning and cognitive function, typically begins to shrink in late adulthood”—65 and over. Aerobic exercise combats this loss by increasing its size.
  5. “Walking may decrease brain-damaging stress.” If this statement doesn’t make you want to go out and take a hike, I don’t know what will. Because walking decreases stress, it will help you do less stress eating. Stroll around your house for 5 or 10 minutes taking deep breaths. You’ll feel more relaxed because walking can “reduce levels of cortisol, which surges during fight or flight situations. Just a 20-minute walk has been shown to reduce stress.”

As long as you’re mobile, you have time for short walks—around your room, house, apartment, office or yard. March back and forth and swing your arms. Inhale and exhale deeply and clear your mind (unless you’re using aerobic activity to problem solve). Use earbuds to listen to music or podcasts. If you’re alone, sing your favorite songs. If you can walk outside, even better. Imagine walking yourself to a healthierbrain and body!