Want to boost your brainpower? Take a hike. That’s the intriguing conclusion of new research out of Spain showing teen-aged girls who walk to school perform better on tests of thinking ability than those who travel by bus or car.
The study, published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, also found school girls with longer walks — taking 15 minutes or more — also score better than those with shorter walks.
"Commuting to school on foot is a healthy daily habit, which contributes to keeping the adolescent active during the rest of the day and encourages them to participate in physical and sports activities," said researchers Palma Chillón, of the University of Granada, and David Martínez-Gómez, of the Autonomous University of Madrid. "This boosts the expenditure of energy and, all in all, leads to a better state of health."
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For the study, researchers tracked 1,700 teen boys and girls in five Spanish cities — examining how they commuted to school, their cognitive performance, weight, and levels of regular physical activity.
The results showed girls who had to walk at least 15 minutes to school — instead of traveling by bicycle, car, bus, subway, or motorcycle — scored higher on standard measures of learning and cognitive performance, assessing language skills, speed in performing mathematical operations, and reasoning.
The researchers noted that during adolescence, "the plasticity of the brain is greater than at any other time of life, which makes it the opportune period to stimulate cognitive function."
Unfortunately, the teen years are also a time when many experience a decline in physical activity — particularly girls, the investigators added. As a result, they said: "Inactive adolescents could be missing out on a very important stimulus to improve their learning and cognitive performance."
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