These days, for many who depend on gyms, dance studios and other exercise-related facilities are struggling to find meaningful substitutes.
Fortunately, there is an easy way to get tremendous benefit with very little time involved. You don’t need expensive equipment and you don’t have to join a gym. You can sharpen your wits with your feet.
Jane Brody has written in The New York Times’ Science Times about Esther Tuttle. Esther was 99 years old, sharp as a tack and was independently mobile, with no aids needed. She continued to stay active by walking in the morning for 30 minutes and then walking again in the afternoon.
The skeptic might say that this is a nice story, but its value is anecdotal at best.
Well, evidence-based medicine backs up her claim that walking is a simple way to get exercise that shows incredible benefits. One mile of walking a day will help keep the doctor away.
According to results of the Cardiovascular Health Cognition Study, walking has a powerful effect on preserving brain function and even growing certain areas of the brain.
Walking between six and nine miles a week, or just one mile a day, reduced the risk of cognitive impairment over 13 years and actually increased the amount of gray matter tissue in the brain over nine years.
Those participants who had an increase in brain tissue volume had a substantially reduced risk of developing cognitive impairment. Interestingly, the parts of the brain that grew included the hippocampus, involved with memory, and the frontal cortex, involved with short-term memory and executive decision making.
There were 299 participants who were a mean age of 78 and dementia-free at the start of the trial. Imagine if you started earlier?
In yet another study, The Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, moderate exercise reduced the risk of mild cognitive impairment with exercise begun in mid-to-late life.
Even better news is that if you’re pressed for time or if you’re building up your stamina, you can split a mile into two half-mile increments. You’ll be surprised at how much better you will feel — and how much sharper your thinking is.
This is a terrific strategy to get you off the couch or away from your computer, another hazard for many of us working or schooling from home. Set an alarm for specific points throughout the day and use that as a prompt to get up and walk, even if only for 15 minutes.
The miles will add up quickly. In addition to the mental acuity benefits, this may also help with your psychological health, giving you a mental break from endless Zoom calls and your eyes a break from endless screens.
If you ratchet up the exercise to running, a study showed that mood also improves, mollifying anger. The act of running actually increases your serotonin levels, a hormone that, when low, can make people agitated or angry.
Walking has other benefits as well. It is a weight-bearing exercise, which helps prevent osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures. The movie “WALL-E” even did a spoof on this, projecting a future where human skeletal structure that had receded over the generations from lack of use.
Although it was tongue-in-cheek, it wasn’t too far from the truth; if you don’t use them, bones weaken and break. Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that helps strengthen your joints, bones and muscles.
So remember, use your feet to keep your mind sharp. Activities like walking will help you keep a positive attitude, preserve your bones and help increase the plasticity of your brain.