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Good for the Brain

Explore Life Science

Shane O’Mara studies how leisurely walks affect our muscles, our immune systems and our brains. Read here how 5,000 steps a day can make a difference.


Walking influences the hippocampus and increases the production of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) – a protein which influences brain function. While we walk, the brain utilizes BDNF in order to create cognitive maps that help us explore the world around us. It also strengthens the connections between those areas of the brain that help us learn and remember. In addition, the protein ensures resistance against aging, trauma and infections.

3. Muscles

When we walk, we are engaged in an aerobic activity that improves the health of the brain tissue, and molecules called myokines are produced inside our muscles. Increased physical activity during the action of walking allows more myokines to reach the brain. Myokines enhance brain performance by creating more connections among brain cells. Additionally, they support the circulatory system and thus enhance the resilience of the brain and the body as a whole.

3. Cardiovascular and immune system

Regular exercise – especially regular walks spaced throughout the day – improves cardiovascular health. Exercise increases the aerobic capacity of the heart and reduces circulating inflammatory factors and risk factors linked to heart disease. Moreover, physical activity supports the immune system through an increase in white blood cells which circulate through the body, and which help fight infection.


Last year, Irish brain researcher Shane O’Mara published his book “In praise of walking”. In his work, he introduces a number of different studies on walking, and he emphasizes that walking, as a kind of self-repair mechanism, makes us healthier, happier and smarter.

“In praise of walking” – Professor Shane O'Mara; 224 pages; $25.95;
W. W. Norton & Company