There is a lot of research out there that reminds us of the benefits to our bodies of taking walks on a regular basis. But what you might not be aware of is that there is growing evidence that walking is also a great way to keep our minds healthy and active as well! I was recently listening to a TED talk (ted.com) by Marilyn Oppezzo, a Behavioural and Learning scientist who is studying how walking affects our creativity. She recently conducted a study in which participants were asked to generate as many new and creative uses for common objects (eg. a house key) in a certain period of time. Each group in the study did the exercise twice. Group 1 did it both times while sitting. Group 2 was seated the first time, and walking on a treadmill the second time. Group 3 was on a treadmill the first time, and sitting the second time.
So what did they find? When participants were on the treadmill, they came up with, on average, twice as many new ideas about the object as those who were seated. In group 3 (treadmill, then sitting), even when they sat for the second time through, they still did better than group 1 which sat both times (although not as good as they had on the treadmill), as if there was some temporary ongoing benefit from having recently walked.
When I was thinking about this in the context of seniors and aging, it may help to explain why sometimes it seems as people become less physically active, they may at the same time start to decline cognitively as well. So in case you needed any more reasons to get up and walk than just your physical well being, know that your brain will thank you as well!