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The Surprise Health Benefit of Walking

Your brain is boosted by your feet hitting the ground.

Heal
group walking in the woods

monkeybusinessimages/Thinkstock

Many people are obsessed with counting their daily steps, trying to hit 10,000, and for good reason. Walking has a host of health benefits, from helping prevent osteoporosis, to lifting the mood, to burning calories. Now there’s another reason that should inspire us to lace up the walking shoes.

A recent study at New Mexico Highlands University suggests that the actual impact of the feet during walking serves an important role in cardiovascular health.

They found that, during walking, the foot’s impact sends pressure waves through a human’s arteries. These waves can change and increase the supply of blood that goes to the brain. Previously, the same research team had looked at the role of foot impact during running, finding that it caused impact-related waves. They did this using non-invasive ultrasound to measure carotid artery blood velocity waves. In this new study, they found that though there is less impact in walking than running, walking still causes enough force to significantly boost blood flow into the brain. Walking caused greater blood flow than cycling, which they also compared it to.

“There is an optimizing rhythm between brain blood flow and ambulating. Stride rates and their foot impacts are within the range of our normal heart rates (about 120/minute) when we are briskly moving along,” wrote the study’s first author, Ernest Greene, Ph.D. Greene is a professor of engineering and biology and a research professor of engineering and medicine at New Mexico Highlands University.

The data suggest that brain blood flow is very changeable, “and depends directly on cyclic aortic pressures that interact with retrograde pressure pulses from foot impacts,” the researchers wrote. They speculate that activities like walking and running may boost brain function and overall sense of wellbeing during exercise.

Walkers, it sounds like it’s time to hit the road again.


Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


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StudiesExercisesBrain FunctionEvolution

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