For people in their 60s, regular walking appears to lower the risk of dementia.
The finding, published this week in the medical journal Neurology, is the latest study to show that exercise helps delay some of the worst ravages of aging for both the body and the mind.
The recent research tracked the exercise habits of 749 men and women in Italy who were over age 65 and were in good health, with no indication of memory problems at the beginning of the study. After four years, they found that the most-frequent walkers had a 27 percent lower risk for developing vascular dementia than those people who walked the least.
What’s important about the study is that it again shows exercise doesn’t have to be excruciating to reap the benefits. “It’s important to note that an easy-to-perform moderate activity like walking provided the same cognitive benefits as other, more demanding activities,” said study author Dr. Giovanni Ravaglia of University Hospital S. Orsola Malpighi, in Bologna, Italy.
Last year, the Annals of Internal Medicine reported on a study of more than 1,700 adults over 65 that also showed regular walkers have lower dementia risk. In that study, walkers who exercised three or more times a week showed a dementia risk of 13 per 1,000 person years, but the adults who walked less often had a risk of 19.7 per 1,000 person years. That translates to a nearly 40 percent reduction in risk.
Walking may help stave off dementia because it improves cerebral blood flow and lowers the risk of vascular disease. The Neurology study didn’t see a connection between exercise and Alzheimer’s, but the authors note that other studies have shown a benefit, so more research needs to be done before ruling out exercise as a way to lower risk for Alzheimer’s.