Health Benefits

Want to take care of your brain?

Did you know that walking meetings have health benefits?
Remo Bärlocher
10 min to read

Did you know that walking meetings have health benefits? Walking is not only good for your physical health, but also for your mental health. Walking increases blood flow to the brain, which helps to improve cognitive function. Walking also releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects.

So, if you want to take care of your brain, change your sitting meetings into walking meetings. You and your colleagues will be happier and healthier for it.

According to new #research on walking, dancing, and brain health, regular walking may rejuvenate and renew the white matter in our brains, allowing us to think and recall better as we age. It indicates that when individuals become more physically active, the white matter that connects and supports the cells in their brains repairs itself. In contrast, sedentary people's white matter frays and shrinks.

This research shows how our brains change daily for the better and worse.

The notion that adult brains may be moldable is a relatively recent discovery in scientific terms. Until the late 1990s, most scientists believed that human brains were permanently fixed and inflexible after early childhood. Most neuroscientists still believe that our brain cells are biologically limited and non-expandable, except those originating in aborted fetuses (which have shown promise).

Fortunately, science advanced, and the dire prediction was adjusted. Complex research utilizing specialized dyes to identify newborn cells revealed that some areas of our brains generate neurons well into adulthood, a process known as neurogenesis. The follow-up studies proved that exercise enhances neurogenesis.

Rats, for example, create three or four times as many brand-new brain cells as resting mice while humans begin a program of regular exercise to increase gray matter volume by twice. In other words, according to this research, our brains are malleable over time and change in response to how we #exercise.

These earlier studies of brain #plasticity have mostly focused on gray matter, which contains the famed little gray cells, or neurons, that enable and generate thoughts and memories. Not much research has investigated white matter, which is made up largely of fat-wrapped nerve fibers known as axons. White matter connects neurons and is important for mental well-being because it consists almost entirely of fat-wrapped nerve fibers known as axons.

However, it is susceptible to thinning and forming small spots as we age, dilapidations that might be precursors of cognitive deterioration. It has also been regarded as relatively static, with limited plasticity and adaptability as our lives change.

Agnieszka Burzynska, a neuroscience and human development professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, thought science was undervaluing white matter. “It's been like the neglected ugly stepsister of gray matter,” she says. She considered it probable that white matter had as much plasticity as its gray counterpart and could refashion itself, especially if people began to walk.

Dr. Burzynska says, the results offer “a strong case for getting up and moving” for the sake of our white matter.

For the #study, published online in June in NeuroImage, she and her graduate student Andrea Mendez Colmenares and colleagues set out to alter people's white matter. They began by recruiting almost 250 non-exercising, but otherwise healthy, older individuals. They tested these individuals' current aerobic fitness, cognitive abilities, and white matter health and function with a sophisticated type of M.R.I. brain scan at the laboratory.

Afterward, the subjects were divided into two groups and put through a similar stretching and balance training regimen three times a week as part of a supervised program to serve as an active control. Another individual began walking together three times a week, quickly, for around 40 minutes. The fourth group, for example, took up dancing three times a week to learn and practice line dances and group choreography. The groups trained for six months before returning to the lab to repeat the initial tests.

According to the scientists, many of the participants' bodies and brains had changed. As expected, walkers and dancers were aerobically fitters. Even more significant, their white matter appeared to be restored. The researchers also discovered that the nerve fibers in particular regions of their brains were larger in the updated scans, and any malformations had shrunk. The walkers, who previously outperformed on memory tests, frequently exhibited these positive changes. In general, dancers did not experience such benefits.

The white matter health of the control group, who had not exercised aerobically, deteriorated over time, with greater thinning and tattering of their axons and declining cognitive scores.

These findings are "very encouraging" for the walkers, according to Dr. Burzynska. They reveal that white matter is flexible and active no matter our age, suggesting that a few quick walks each week could be enough to polish it and slow or prevent memory loss.

Despite the adjustments being modest and somewhat inconsistent, Dr. Burzynska considers them significant. Because dancing necessitates more learning and practice than walking, according to Dr. Burzynska and her coworkers, dancing should have resulted in greater white matter and #cognitive gains than walking. On the other hand, walking was more powerful, implying that aerobic exercise alone is most important for white matter health. “The dancers spent some of their time each session looking at the instructors and not moving much,” Dr. Burzynska explains. “That may have affected their outcomes.”

The study participants also were past 60, inactive and worked out for only six months. It remains unclear whether the brains of younger, fitter people would benefit or if longer-term aerobic exercise might prompt larger improvements in memory and thinking. But, for now, Dr. Burzynska says, the results offer “a strong case for getting up and moving” for the sake of our white matter.

White matter matters, and starting to walk can be as easy as downloading Feeting and turning your sitting meetings into walking meetings. Your brain will thank you later.

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