Walking 20 Minutes can Save Your Brain

October 28, 2008

Exercise and Memory Competency 

# 4 Activity                                     Reference: : JAMA Sept 3, 2008: 300 (9):1077-1079;  JAMA: 300:1027- 037. 

 Ok, ok.  So you don’t like to exercise.  Nor do I.  I’m just not very easily motivated when I’m tired and stressed out.  Well, I just found a way of breaking through my denial.   I’ve been THINKING about exercising a little bit more.  I’ve even dabbled  in an extra walk or two here and there, say, once or twice a week.  With that frequency, surely you, too, could say you exercised frequently? 

 It sounds like classical “Contemplation” in Prochaska’s six stages of change.  Thinking about a problem but not really changing into the next stage, which is Planning, or the next stage, Action.  Oh no, an expert “Contemplator” can sit there for years with their chin on their hand and their hand on their knee, contemplating.  To move from contemplation to planning, you need to start having a list in your head of reasons to change, and the list has to have a couple of compelling issues in it. 

 Information is motivation to change.  Here’s the information to get you to change. From Australia, 138 participants in the Fitness for the Aging Brain Study were asked to add 20 minutes of physical activity a day into their routine.  They were average age 69.  The controls were told to do nothing different just keep up activity as normal.  The study was very elegant and very simple.  The intent of the study was to look at memory.  The exercisers were found to have improved memory after 6 months, and it was still there 6 months later. 

 Now, add to that another study from the JAMA, same topic.  Take 170 men and women who answer the question, “Do you have any trouble with your memory?”  If folks answered yes but were found not to meet criteria for dementia, they were randomized to two groups.  Each group got information about stress management, healthy diet, alcohol and smoking.  The study group got encouragement in the form of newsletters to promote brisk walking for 50 minutes three times a week.  After six months, they could tell the difference in memory ability between the two groups.  Walking helped memory and could be measured to be beneficial in just 6 months.  And the beneficial effect lasted for 18 months. 

Did you get that?  Walking 20 minutes every day is enough to make your brain have better memory within just 6 months, and last for a couple of years after.  This is serious stuff.  It’s time for you to add this to your personal list that you carry around deep inside your private little denial zone.  Stop contemplating, start planning.  The scales are tipped.  It’s there.  Two studies. 

  WWW.  What will work for me?  I can’t plan for years of virtuous behavior.  I can plan tomorrow.  I need to do 20 minutes of walking tomorrow, extra-brisk walking. Or try for 50 minutes three times a week.   Got it?  Move it!

Column written by Dr. John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. 53045 (262-784-5300)