The study found that people aged 40 to 79 who took 9,826 steps a day were 50% less likely to develop dementia over seven years. In addition, people who walked “purposefully” at a pace of more than 40 steps per minute reduced their risk of dementia by 57% by taking just 6,315 steps per day.
“It’s a brisk walking activity, just like a power walk,” said study co-author Borja del Pozo Cruz, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, Denmark, and a senior researcher in health sciences at the University of Cadiz, Spain.
The study found that even people who walked about 3,800 steps a day at any pace had a 25% lower risk of developing dementia.
“At first, for sedentary people, this was enough,” Del Pozzo Cruz said in an email.
“In fact, physicians can use it to motivate sedentary older adults — 4k steps are very doable for many, even those who are less fit or feel less motivated,” he added. “Maybe, people who are more active and fit should aim for 10k, and we’re seeing the biggest impact.”
People looking to reduce dementia risk focus on walking speed within walking distance, the editorial argues.
Alzheimer’s disease researchers Ozioma Okonkwo and Elizabeth Planalp in an editorial. Okonkwo is an associate professor in the university’s Faculty of Medicine Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Planalp is a research scientist in Okonkwo’s lab.
“We do agree that this is a very interesting finding,” Del Pozzo Cruz said via email. “Our view is that the intensity of the steps matters! More than the quantity. Technology can be used to track not only steps but pace, so these types of metrics can also be incorporated into commercial watches. More needs to be done on this Research. ”
Don’t have a pedometer? You can count the number of steps you took in 10 seconds and multiply that by 6—or the number of steps you took in six seconds by 10. Either way works. But keep in mind that not everyone’s steps are the same, and their fitness levels are different. What might be a brisk pace for a 40-year-old might not be sustainable for a 70-year-old.
Editor’s Note: Before starting any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.
In the study
The researchers then compared that person’s steps to any type of dementia they had diagnosed seven years later. After controlling for age, race, education, gender, socio-emotional status, and the number of days they wore the accelerometer, the researchers also accounted for lifestyle variables such as poor diet, smoking, alcohol use, drug use, sleep problems and a history of cardiovascular disease.
Its authors note that the study does have some limitations — it’s only observational, so it can’t establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between walking and a reduced risk of dementia. Furthermore, “the age range of the participants may have contributed to the limited number of dementia cases, which means that our results may not generalize to the elderly population,” the study said.
“Because of the often considerable delay in dementia diagnosis, and the fact that this study did not include formal clinical and cognitive assessments of dementia, the prevalence of dementia in the community is likely to be much higher,” the authors added.
Okonkwo and Planalp write that while agreeing that the findings cannot be interpreted as direct cause and effect, “the growing body of evidence that supports the benefits of physical activity for maintaining optimal brain health can no longer be ignored.”
“It is time to consider the management of physical inactivity as an intrinsic part of routine primary care visits in older adults,” they added.
research adds up
In fact, new research published in July found that many leisure activities, such as housework, exercise, adult education classes and visiting family and friends, can affect dementia risk in middle-aged adults.
Regular household chores were associated with a 21% lower risk, and daily visits with family and friends were associated with a 15% lower risk of dementia compared with less engaged people.
The researchers found that everyone in the study benefited from the protective effects of physical and mental activity, regardless of whether they had a family history of dementia.
Exercise can boost levels of a protein that enhances communication between brain cells through synapses, which may be a key factor in preventing dementia, the study found.
“Dementia is largely preventable,” Del Pozzo Cruz said. “Physical activity as well as other lifestyle behaviours such as not drinking and smoking, maintaining a healthy diet, weight and sleep can put you on the right track to avoid dementia.”