Study: Walking Improves Memory, Learning, Attention in Older Women

Article excerpt

A new study of older women indicates that regular walking is not just good for the body; it's good for the brain.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and three other institutions tracked the exercise habits of more than 18,000 older women over a period of eight to 15 years. Then, when the women reached age 70 and older, the researchers tested the women's cognitive abilities--their memory, learning, and attention--over a two-year period. They found that women who performed a moderate amount of activity, walking two to three hours at an easy pace every week, performed significantly better on these tests of cognition than women who walked less than one hour per week.

Women who engaged in the most activity--for example, walking at least six hours per week--bad a 20 percent decrease in risk of cognitive impairment compared to those who were inactive, and they also demonstrated the cognitive functioning of someone three years younger than their actual age.

"Walking is a popular, accessible, and inexpensive activity for older adults that appears to provide many health benefits," says lead author Jennifer Weuve, Sc.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health. "In addition to studies showing a reduced risk of heart disease, pulmonary disease, and diabetes, a moderate level of walking also appeared to reduce the rate of cognitive decline in our study. What is most striking is that for older women who are able to engage in several hours per week of physical activity, their cognitive function seemed to be comparable to that of a woman several years younger."

Weuve and colleagues at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston analyzed the data from 18,766 U. …