The Spring in Your Step

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New research uncovers how age affects the areas of the brain that control our ability to walk.
Walking doesn’t take a lot of thought yet it’s a process that is tightly controlled by the brain. How the brain controls our walking patterns is not precisely known, which limits our ability to help those who have trouble walking because of old age.
TRI Scientist Kei Masani and his team have been working to solve this mystery. In a previous study his team observed that a region of the brain known as the primary motor cortex acts in concert with the leg to control movement. More recently, the researchers looked at how the control of leg movement changes as people age.  
They found that communication between the motor cortex and leg muscles was less coordinated in older adults. Moreover, the region of the brain that controls leg movement in elderly participants was broader, suggesting that perhaps the brain was compensating for age-related changes by changing the part of the brain that controls movement.
Explains Dr. Masani, “Our study suggests that aging can directly affect how our brains participate in the walking process. More studies are needed to determine if these findings can be exploited to promote walking in elderly adults with mobility issues.”
This work was supported by the University of Toronto, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and a donation from Dean Connor and Maris Uffelmann.
Yoshida T, Masani K, Zabjek K, Chen R, Popovic MR. Dynamic cortical participation during bilateral, cyclical ankle movements: effects of aging. Sci Rep. 2017 Mar 16;7:44658. doi: 10.1038/srep44658.