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By Dr. Lauren Quattrocchi, DC

2 Minute Read

Have you ever thought that the effort you put into your physical fitness could lead to improved brain health? With many of us practicing social distancing and staying home, we have been doing more home workouts and for many of us have started going on daily walks. While many of us exercise with the goal of improving our cardiovascular health and body composition, it is also important to remember that physical activity can aid in the improvement of our brain health. Over the years research has shown that exercise has protective effects on our mental health, and stress levels and can reduce the risk of future dementia.
Enthusiastic senior man strolling in park

With us having some extra time to spare right now, what if I told you a simple walking test could give you a quick indication of your cognitive function such as memory, reasoning, and sharpness? A recent study revealed a definitive link between physical fitness and improved cognitive function using a two-minute walk test.

The study involved 1000 healthy young adults who were asked to walk as quickly as they could in two minutes. The participants were then asked to complete a variety of cognitive tests and finally underwent an MRI to analyze certain characteristics of the brain. The study found that physical fitness levels were directly associated with preserved white matter of the brain and better performance with cognitive demands. It is important to note that the white matter areas of the brain are responsible for carrying messages and improving cognition and processing speed. Therefore the study found that physical activity has a direct impact on our cognitive function and that physically fit individuals have “fitter” brains and improved cognitive function.

Photo of smiling man in white cap listening to music with earphones and using smart watch while walking at seaside

So are you now eager to see how well you would perform on the two-minute walk test? Well, good news is you can get some exercise while trying! Here is what you need to test yourself:

    • Something to time yourself with (watch, cell phone, stopwatch)
    • A way to measure your distance (fitness watch, running app, Google Maps)

So how do you complete the test? Go outside (in a safe area, ensure you are practicing appropriate physical distancing) and walk as quickly as you can for two minutes. You are NOT allowed to jog, meaning one foot on the ground at all times. Once the two minutes is up, using your smart watch or Google maps calculate the distance you walked.

Table A (below, left) demonstrates the average distance walked during the two minutes for each age group. Table B (below, right) demonstrates how far in meters you have to make it during the two minutes to be among the top 2.5% in your age group.

Distance walked table<br />
In summary, we now know that higher physical fitness is associated with preserved white matter in the brain and better cognitive performance. Therefore, physical activity has positive effects not only on our cardiovascular health but also on our brain health!

With everything that has been happening during the last few weeks, maintaining our mental health is very important! There has been a lot of stress added into our lives and for many of us, a disruption to our normal routines. So take two minutes out of your day and go outside to give this test a try, you can even make it into a fun family competition, and be sure to keep us updated on your results!

I hope that everyone is staying safe during this time and remember, do not just exercise for your physical health, exercise for your mental health too!