How Walking Benefits the Brain

How Walking Benefits the Brain

You probably know that walking does your body good, but it’s not just your heart and muscles that benefit.

Researchers at New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU) found that the foot’s impact during walking sends pressure waves through the arteries that significantly modify and can increase the supply of blood to the brain.

Until recently, the blood supply to the brain (cerebral blood flow or CBF) was thought to be involuntarily regulated by the body and relatively unaffected by changes in the blood pressure caused by exercise or exertion.

The NMHU research team and others previously found that the foot’s impact during running (4–5 G-forces) caused significant impact-related retrograde (backward-flowing) waves through the arteries that sync with the heart rate and stride rate to dynamically regulate blood circulation to the brain. 

The researchers found that though there is lighter foot impact associated with walking compared with running, walking still produces larger pressure waves in the body that significantly increase blood flow to the brain.

While the effects of walking on CBF were less dramatic than those caused by running, they were greater than the effects seen during cycling, which involves no foot impact at all.

“New data now strongly suggest that brain blood flow is very dynamic and depends directly on cyclic aortic pressures that interact with retrograde pressure pulses from foot impacts,” the researchers wrote.

“There is a continuum of hemodynamic effects on human brain blood flow within pedaling, walking and running.

Speculatively, these activities may optimize brain perfusion, function, and overall sense of wellbeing during exercise.”

“What is surprising is that it took so long for us to finally measure these obvious hydraulic effects on cerebral blood flow,” first author Ernest Greene explained.

“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.”


2 thoughts on “How Walking Benefits the Brain

  1. BirdLoverInMichigan

    I’ve always loved walking. Although my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome makes it a lot harder, I’m still pushing myself to keep at it.

    Now since walking’s found directly related to blood flow to the brain, all the more reason to keep fighting for my mobility. I can’t say it feels the same when I walk, but I’m grateful I can still do it nonetheless. Using a shopping cart at the store makes it a lot more pleasurable, as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      I’ve always been a walker – I find it hard to stand still!

      I walked alone (with dog, of course), even in outlying isolated areas, just miles and miles, instead of watching TV.

      Then, in college, whenever I met someone interesting, I would urge them out to walk around with me. Conversations seemed to get deeper and more personally revealing, perhaps because we weren’t looking directly at each other when waking side by side.

      I get very upset when my hips get so painful even on the shortest walk sometimes, because losing that ability would be devastating. I pray I can keep my hip joints strong enough to walk many, many more miles.



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