September 21, 2004
Looking for an easy way to help keep the mind sharp and reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease? A simple walk around the block may be a good first step. Two new studies suggest that even modest physical activity, the kind you might get from walking, may help to ward off memory loss and keep the brain young as we age.
In one study, researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville looked at 2,257 older men living in Hawaii who were in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. The men were surveyed to determine how much walking they did and given regular mental tests over several years. Those who walked the least, less than a quarter mile a day, had nearly twice the risk for Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia compared to men who walked the most, more than two miles daily. Men who walked between a quarter-mile and a mile a day were 71 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who walked more than two miles a day. Men who could walk most briskly also appeared to have a reduced risk for Alzheimer's.
In the other study, part of the large and ongoing Nurses' Health Study at the Harvard School of Public Health, researchers surveyed more than 18,000 women aged 70 to 81 on their physical habits. The researchers found that older women who engaged in regular physical activity, including walking, did better on memory and mental exams and showed less age-related memory problems than women who were less active. Women who were most physically active had a 20 percent lower risk of memory and cognitive problems than those who were least active. Women who walked at an easy pace for at least an hour and a half each week, for example, did better on memory and thinking tests than those who walked less than 40 minutes a week.
"The apparent cognitive benefits of greater physical activity were similar in extent to being about three years younger in age," the Harvard authors wrote. "The association was not restricted to women engaging in vigorous activities: walking the equivalent of at least one and a half hours per week at a 21 to 30 minute/mile pace were also associated with better cognitive performance."
Both these reports add to the growing body of evidence that regular physical exercise, and even modest activities like walking, may help keep the brain in good working order into old age. Walking is a relatively easy and popular activity that can be done almost anywhere. Other studies show that it helps to keep weight and blood pressure down and may even boost mood as well. Researchers believe that regular exercise also improves blood vessel health and blood flow throughout the body, including the brain, and may have additional benefits for heart and brain health.
Alzheimer's is a complex disease that likely depends on many factors, including the genes you inherit. Lifestyle factors like walking and regular exercise are likely just one part of the preventive puzzle. While a daily walk around the mall or neighborhood track won't guarantee a physically and mentally robust old age, it may help you to look, feel, and act younger.
For more on the risk factors for Alzheimer's disease, visit www.ALZinfo.org.
By www.ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer's Information Site. Reviewed by , Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.
Robert D. Abbott; Lon R. White; G. Webster Ross; Kamal H. Masaki; J. David Curb; Helen Petrovitch: "Walking and Dementia in Physically Capable Elderly Men." Journal of the American Medical Association, September 21, 2004;292: pages 1447-1453.
Jennifer Weuve; Jae Hee Kang; JoAnn E. Manson; Monique M. B. Breteler; James H. Ware; Francine Grodstein: "Physical Activity, Including Walking, and Cognitive Function in Older Women." Journal of the American Medical Association, September 21, 2004;292: pages1454 -1461.