Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Forget Crossword Puzzles. Here’s How to Increase Your Brain Power

December 23, 2014
Forget Crossword Puzzles. Here’s How to Increase Your Brain Power
"Walkable" neighborhoods have a couple of key characteristics that hold great promise for the brain. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
What type of impact will this research have on urban planning?

We’ve all heard of the benefits of living in walkable cities — not only are they good for your heart and body, but foot-friendly communities help reduce environmental impact as well. And now, new preliminary research finds that walking improves brain function, too.

In a small-scale study, Amber Watts, a professor of psychology at Kansas University in Lawrence, discovered that taking a stroll — whether to the bank or to simply enjoy a beautiful day — helps keep your mind active and fresh. Results showed that test subjects (who were older and included some with Alzheimer’s) who resided in more pedestrian-friendly ares actually scored higher on cognitive tests, according to Fast Co. Exist.

Watts used the mapping software Space Syntax to gauge the areas with the most connectivity, which measures the amount of places within a half mile of a participant’s home, and integration (how difficult and intricate navigation of the area is).

“Higher connectivity across the board is associated with better cognitive function. It could be that there’s more places to walk to, more people to socialize with, more opportunities to get there,” Watts tells Fast Co. Exist.

Because of the findings, Watts is preparing to conduct a large research project on how walkability affects cognition. For it, she plans to strap pedometers to 100 older adults, including those with early dementia.

“I wouldn’t say that moving to a walkable neighborhood will prevent you from getting Alzheimer’s,” Watts explains. “This could be a relatively small contribution, but it could be important. We can’t change our age, we can’t change whether we have genetic alleles that put us at risk, but we can change how we live.”

MORE: What Are America’s Most Walkable Cities?