Jackie Gingrich Cushman

You already know – eat better, and less, and exercise more and you’ll lose weight and look better. What you may not know is that walking might help you think better.

In “Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition” published last month in “Nature Reviews Neuroscience,” Drs. Charles Hillman, Kirk Erickson and Arthur Kramer, state that “aerobic exercise can improve a number of aspects of cognition and performance.”

For those of us who are beginning to misremember things (i.e., calling your child by the wrong name or giving up altogether and referring to her as simply “Hey, you”) this is great news – another reason to circle the block on foot.

In a study referenced in the article, sedentary adults ages 60 – 80 years were divided into an aerobically active group and a control group. Only those in the first group “showed significant improvement in dual task performance over the 10 week period,” the authors concluded.

They also reviewed other studies (compiling previously published data into a meta-analysis that increased the power of their findings) of exercise training in older adults and found exercisers’ executive cognitive ability (scheduling, planning, working memory, multi-tasking and dealing with ambiguity) improved the most. Also improved, but to a lesser extent, were controlled, spatial and speed of cognitive ability. This may explain why most CEO’s appear to be more fit than average Americans – the additional aerobic exercise also improves their waistlines.

But it’s not just older adults who are helped by exercise. The article cites recent studies for school-age children showing that "achievement in standardized tests of mathematics and reading was positively related to physical fitness scores” measuring aerobic fitness.

It added that other types of physical measures such as “muscle strength and flexibility fitness were unrelated to academic achievement.”

According to “A Nation at Risk: Obesity in the United States,” published by the American Stroke Association, and American Heart Association, with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 16 percent of our nation’s children are overweight.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.