the surprising protective effect of walking on the brain

How many steps per day help offset the risk of dementia? Researchers may now have the answer. Dementia affects more than 55 million people worldwide and is the seventh leading cause of death worldwide. With the increase in the proportion of elderly people in the population, the number of cases of dementia is also on the rise. There is growing evidence that regular exercise not only benefits general health, but is also one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of developing dementia.

Good news for those who struggle to fit exercise into their daily routine, a new study has shown that walking around 4,000 steps a day can reduce the risk of dementia by 25%.
By increasing the number of daily steps to just under 10,000, the risk of dementia can be halved. With the aging of the global population, cases of dementia are also on the rise worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 55 million people currently have dementia, and this figure is expected to rise to 139 million by 2050.

The main risk factors for dementia are aging and genetics. Dementia is more common in people over the age of 75, and having a close relative with dementia can increase the risk of developing the disease. Other risk factors that we cannot control include gender: women are more at risk than men, and ethnicity. However, lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise, blood pressure control, and brain stimulation, may reduce the risk of dementia, even in people with one or more risk factors. .

A broad and healthy approach that considers lifestyle, diet, exercise, cognitive stimulation, socialization and sleep makes all the difference. Many of them can be effective even if implemented later in life. And exercising doesn’t have to involve breaking a sweat at the gym or playing a new sport.

According to a study recently published in JAMA Neurology, simply increasing the number of steps a person takes each day can reduce their risk of dementia by up to 50%.

How did the study go?

The study used data from the UK Biobank. The 78,430 participants, of whom 44.7% were men and 55.3% women, had an average age of 61.1 years. All participants were free of cardiovascular disease and dementia when they entered the study. The researchers followed up the participants after a median of 6.9 years (6.4-7.5 years). For the study, participants had to wear an accelerometer on their dominant wrist 24/7 to measure their physical activity. The researchers then used an algorithm to calculate the number of steps from the data collected by the accelerometer. When analyzing the data, the researchers took into account variables such as age, sex, race, socioeconomic status, smoking status, general health status and diet. At follow-up, 866 participants, or 1.1%, had developed dementia.

The conclusions of the study

This is an important study that can help inform public health guidelines regarding the amount of physical activity needed to achieve health benefits. These results are not surprising given the strong data we have that links physical activity and better cognition. One of the strengths of this study is that it used an objective and widely understood measure of step count rather than self-reported data. The researchers found that both step count and step intensity were associated with a reduced risk of dementia. To get the greatest benefit, a 50% reduction in dementia risk, participants had to walk about 9,800 steps a day. Beyond this figure, no other benefits were found.

However, the good news for those who cannot take that many steps is that just 3,826 steps per day reduces the risk of dementia by 25%. Any physical exercise helps to reduce the risk. It’s never too late to get started and even relatively low effort is beneficial and can be increased as endurance improves. Intentional steps, defined as more than 40 steps per minute, such as during a walk, strengthened the association with reduced risk of dementia.

There is a “dose” effect here, that is to say that a more intense and voluntary walk is more beneficial than a leisurely walk. In addition, people often walk with other people (walking and talking), which allows for the integration of a social component and an interactive component.

Stay active for mental and physical health

This study adds to growing evidence that staying active as you age can preserve physical and mental health and improve longevity. Another large-scale study of nearly 650,000 military veterans found that being physically fit reduced the risk of dementia by up to 33%. In this study, even a small amount of physical exercise was found to help reduce the risk of dementia. An analysis of 11 studies by the Alzheimer’s Society found that, among regular exercise, not smoking, moderating alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet, is the regular exercise that has the most impact on the risk of dementia. For Alzheimer’s disease, regular exercise reduces the risk by up to 45%.

* Presse Santé strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the advice of a health professional.

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