There have been a lot of TikTok videos over the last couple of years of people outside saying they are “going on my stupid walk for my stupid mental health,” but a new study out of the United Kingdom actually says that brisk walking can significantly reduce your risk for dementia.
The recent study published in JAMA Neurology found that people between the ages of 40 and 79 who took 9,826 steps per day were 50% less likely to develop dementia within seven years. Those who walked at a pace of more than 40 steps per minute were able to cut their risk of dementia by 57% with just 6,315 steps a day.
The study analyzed data 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 (like strolling) and more than 40 steps per minute (called “purposeful” walking).
Researchers then compared that person’s steps against their diagnosis of dementia of any type seven years later. After controlling for age, ethnicity, education, sex, socio-emotional status and how many days they wore an accelerometer, researchers also factored out such lifestyle variables as poor diet, smoking, alcohol use, medication use, sleep issues and a history of cardiovascular disease.
The downside of the research is there is no “why” – why does lots of brisk walking correlate to a smaller risk of developing dementia?
The healthy brain
Kristine Johnson, CDP, a dementia specialist with Hartford HealthCare’s Center for Healthy Aging at Backus Hospital, said that she teaches a class geared toward people who are not yet diagnosed with dementia called “The Healthy Brain.” The five part class includes a segment on the importance and benefits of exercise.
“We like to say, ‘What’s good for the heart is good for the brain,’” she said. “Staying active and healthy, keeping your blood and oxygen flowing, are all good for your heart and your brain.”
Any movement is good
Other studies have found that many activities, ranging from household chores, to exercise, to adult education classes affected dementia risk in middle-aged people. Grab that vacuum because regularly doing household chores lowered risk by 21% when compared with people who were less engaged.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a medical condition that interferes with the way the brain works. Johnson noted that dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. She said vascular dementia is caused by blocked or reduced blood flow to different areas of the brain. This causes the brain to get less oxygen and nutrients. It often presents as general confusion, agitation, poor judgment, problems with reasoning and changes in behaviors.
Underlying conditions may increase the risk for vascular dementia, including:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
However, walking briskly regularly or participating in any type of consistent exercise can help reduce those underlying conditions, said Johnson.
Common dementia symptoms include:
- Memory loss.
- Changes in how people talk.
- Changes in how people act.
- Trouble completing day to day activities.
- Difficulty learning new skills.