How Walking Can Sharpen Your Mind

By Erin Palinski-Wade

Walking doesn’t just lift your mood and spirits; it also helps to improve how your mind functions as well. Many studies have shown time and time again that moderate exercise, such as walking, can improve memory and concentration in everyone from young children to individuals in their 80s and beyond.

No matter what your age or your current exercise level, adding walking to your daily routine can only help to sharpen your mind.

Short energy bursts of exercise lasting from 10 to 40 minutes have been shown to provide an immediate boost in mental focus and concentration. This boost is largely due to exercise’s ability to improve circulation and blood flow to the brain. Elderly adults who engage in even low‐intensity movements, such as cooking, cleaning, and gardening, have been shown to be better protected from memory and vocabulary losses than sedentary individuals of the same age.

The improvements in memory and concentration from exercise such as walking can be immediate. For instance, one University of Illinois Urbana‐Champaign study showed that adults who performed cardiovascular exercise such as walking had an increased memory capacity and reaction time when completing a mental task 30 minutes later as opposed to nonexercisers and even those who only partook in strength‐training exercises.

Sticking to your walking routine over a period of time has additional brain benefits as well. For instance, one study found that when sedentary individuals started an exercise routine for just 30 minutes three times per week, they were better able to perform mental tasks and had an increased memory after 12 weeks.

One reason for this improvement is that long-term exercise is believed to boost brainderived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. This secreted protein is instrumental in the development of brain tissue and nerve connections in the areas of the brain that contribute to higher reasoning. Increasing this protein through exercise can then help to enhance this area of the brain, improving memory and concentration.