• Nancy Griffin

UK Study Provides More Proof Physical Activity Reduces Risk of Dementia

New research suggests walking 10,000 steps a day can cut the risk of dementia in half; 4,000 daily steps can reduce dementia risk by a quarter.


A new study published in JAMA Neurology shows that walking just under 10 000 steps per day may be optimally associated with a lower risk of dementia. Steps performed at higher intensity resulted in stronger associations. Although the findings do not validate direct cause and effect, the study adds to mounting evidence in support of the benefits of physical activity for maintaining optimal brain health.


Data was analyzed from more than 78,000 people between the ages of 40 and 79 who wore wrist accelerometers. Researchers counted each person’s total number of steps per day, and then placed them into two categories: Fewer than 40 steps per minute – which is more of an amble, like when you’re walking from room to room – and more than 40 steps per minute, or so-called “purposeful” walking. At the optimal 112 steps per minute for 30 minutes, participants reduced their risk of dementia by 62%


“It is a brisk walking activity, like a power walk,” said study coauthor Borja del Pozo Cruz, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, Denmark, and senior researcher in health sciences for the University of Cadiz in Spain. “Faster steps provide superior results.”


For older adults not capable of that speed, the study found even less steps at lower speeds to be beneficial. People who took 9,826 steps per day were 50% less likely to develop dementia within seven years, yet those who walked 3,800 steps per day at any speed cut their risk of dementia within seven years by a quarter.


The authors also point out the limitation of the study in determining the type of dementia. “Walking is associated with better vascular profiles, which is probably the clearest pathway through which steps may benefit dementia. Thus, it’s “likely that vascular dementia is the most preventable through physical activity,” Pozo Cruz told The Today Show in an email. Vascular dementia, caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow to the brain, is the second most common type of dementia, after Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Society.


Several studies in the past year have concluded that regular physical activity can lower the risk of developing dementia.


A study published in January reported that exercise can slow the progression of dementia in people whose brains have signs of plaques, tangles, and other hallmarks of dementia. The researchers said they believe that exercise boost levels of proteins that strengthen communication between brain cells, which might help keep dementia at bay.


A study published in August found that completing household chores lowered the risk of dementia by 21%. Daily visits with family and friends reduced the risk by 15% compared to people who did not engage in these activities.


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