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Take a walk, improve your memory!

October 10, 2012

On my morning walks to school, I often think to myself how much I love fall, with the (as of yet) lack of snow on the ground,  the pumpkin spice lattes that keep me company during my Starbucks study sessions, and most importantly, the beautiful outdoor scenery! As it turns out though, being outside in nature can provide more than just pretty scenery, it can actually improve cognitive function!

New research coming from Dr. Marc Berman at the  University of Toronto has demonstrated that after a mere 50 minute walk in nature, patients who were diagnosed with clinical depression exhibited a 16% increase in their short term memory abilities. Furthermore, the clients found benefits even if they did not enjoy the walk! This finding is very exciting when we consider the types of clients we will work with in the future, and their pattern of strengths and weaknesses.

As we have learned in our Adult Language Disorders II class, dementia is a cognitive disorder that affected up to 15% of Canadians aged 65 or older last year. Memory is heavily impacted in this disease, with memory for past and current events, as well as working memory being the most affected.

While the study was done on patients with clinical depression, parallels can be drawn to other client groups, such as to patients with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Perhaps treatment occurring in nature could prolong intact short term memory abilities, and extend the amount of time a person has before their memory begins to slip. Future research on this topic could even change the way we build rehabilitation hospitals and long term care centers!

Indeed, Dr. Hopper, Associate Dean of Rehabilitation Medicine and instructor in the SLP program at U of A, is also aware of the fact that exercise is associated with neurogenesis (brain cell growth) in the hippocampus, an area of the brain important for memory. She says:

“The fact that nature and being outdoors may have a beneficial effect on cognition and perhaps similar effects on neural function is exciting! These findings remind me of earlier ones in animal research in which mice placed in enriched environments (lab cages with special enhancements) had better cognitive and neural function as compared to mice in impoverished environments. It will be important in future research to separate the differential effects of exercize and the environment on cognitive function. Nevertheless, it’s never a bad idea to go for a walk outside, and if you can take a friend along for social interaction (another cognitively stimulating activity), then all the better!”

Consider this research the next time you go outside, it might just improve your memory!

-Adele Courchesne

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Erane McManus, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital permalink
    October 11, 2012 8:16 am

    Nice piece Adele! I totally agree, a walk in the fresh air (with a latte, better yet) is always a good idea. Now if I could only convince my teenager that an hour of “Plants vs Zombies” does NOT have the same effect…

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