Why Our Brains Need Us To Walk


I am currently reading Dr John Ratey’s excellent book “Spark! How exercise will improve the performance of your brain.”
In his book he describes clearly how exercise helps our brain in so many ways:
• helping us to learn in the classroom at school and beyond,
• to manage stress and fend off anxiety and depression,
• improving our ability to focus and pay attention,
• stabilising mood swings associated with hormonal change,
• to remaining cognitively fit as we age.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been having a bit of a rant about our local school reducing the amount of time allocated to its pupils for physical activity from five sessions to just two over a 6 day teaching cycle. This is because of the school’s perception that the students would benefit more from having more classroom time with their teachers from Year 11. This is the time when the pressure to do well in the TEE exams at the end of Year 12 starts to build.
If only the school had read Dr Ratey’s book.
Don’t worry I’m going to ensure they get a copy.

My good friend David Beard, an exercise physiologist here in Perth showed me an article published in the UWA Uniview magazine this week. Dr. Karen Martin, Research Assistant Professor from the School of Population Health discussed her findings from her PhD study where she looked at how the physical, social and policy environments of a school are associated with physical activity of students.

So what were her overall findings?

That a greater focus on physical education (PE) delivered by trained teachers, at school, in clubs or on the local oval would bring a string of benefits:
• Improved concentration in class
• Better academic results
• Increased self esteem
• Less absenteeism
• More attention to homework.

It sounds the answer to every teacher’s prayer!
Our daughter’s school is going to get a copy of this too.

Walking in middle age to protect our memory.

New research published in “Neurology” suggests that walking for at least 9 to 10 kilometres a week will, by protecting brain size assist us in preserving our memory as we age.
Brain shrinkage is normal. We all start losing brain volume from our twenties, albeit at a very low rate of 0.2% per year. This shrinkage rate increases once we reach our sixties and is faster still if we subsequently develop mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.

In this study, 299 middle-aged people were followed over a period of 14 years. They basically just had to record the number of “blocks” they walked each week. Brain scans performed nine years later showed that those who regularly walked between nine to fourteen kilometres a week retained a greater amount of grey matter ie brain cells, than those who walked less. Walking further interestingly did not confer any additional benefit.
Four years later, cognitive tests showed that 40% of the participants had developed cognitive impairment or dementia. But those who had walked the most, showed half the risk of developing memory problems.

This suggests that a regular exercise program for everyone in his or her midlife may help to prevent the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
So many times the main excuse I hear from people who are yet to “get around” to exercise in any shape or form is that they are too busy.

If the choice is between taking thirty minutes out of my day to exercise, so that I can keep my brain working the way I want it to for as long as possible or choosing to skip the exercise and just take the risk that memory impairment might hit earlier. I choose to get out there and walk.

So what’s your choice?

Scary Stats from the States.

I am always fascinated by what appear to be quirky stats, but these just blew me away. I wonder how Australians would compare?

80,000 Americans were surveyed over a five-year period to ascertain how much time they spent in either sedentary, light, moderate or vigorous activities on a daily basis.

Are you ready for this?

Only 5% reported doing any vigorous activity of any shape or form.

Most reported spending their time in sedentary activities:
95.6% were eating and drinking
80% were watching TV

Of the light activities:
79% did washing, dressing and personal grooming
71% drove a car, truck or motorbike

The most frequently reported moderate activities included:
26% were involved in food and drink preparation
10% were undertaking lawn, garden and houseplant care.

And finally those engaged in some form of vigorous activity
2.2% used cardiovascular equipment and
1.1% went running.

Those statistics fair took my breath away.
If you took a look at your average day, how would you compare to the average American?

References:

K.I. Erickson, C.A. Raji, O.L. Lopez, J.T. Becker, C. Rosano, A.B. Newman, H.M. Gach, P.M. Thompson, A.J. Ho, and L.H. Kuller. Physical activity predicts gray matter volume in late adulthood: The Cardiovascular Health Study. Neurology, 2010; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181f88359

Catrine Tudor-Locke, PhD, William D Johnson, PhD, and Peter T Katzmarzyk, PhD. Frequently Reported Activities by Intensity for U.S. Adults: The American Time-Use Survey. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 39, Issue 4 (October 2010) DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2010.05.017

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