Walk Your Way to a Bigger Brain

Cut your risk of dementia in half by logging a mile a day

If someone said you could reduce your risk of dementia by fifty percent just by walking a mile a day, would you do it? Well, then, it’s time to lace up your walking shoes for better brain power. Walking at least six miles a week may help prevent brain shrinkage and preserve your memory in old age. That’s according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.

Whereas our waistbands tend to expand as we get older, our brains go in the opposite direction. In late adulthood, the volume of our grey matter shrinks, which can lead to memory problems and other cognitive issues.

And just as exercise can help keep our weight in check, new research suggests that physical activity can also prevent brain deterioration. Past research has shown that being physically inactive now ups your risk for dementia later. People who stay the most physically active in their golden years have greater brain volume than their less-fit peers.

This most recent study sought to find out whether exercise -- in this case, walking -- would result in higher brain mass and better cognitive function, and if so, just how much walking was necessary to preserve it. To find out, researchers calculated how many blocks 299 dementia-free senior citizens walked per week, and followed them for 13 years. Nine years into the study, the scientists used brain scans to measure the brain size of participants. Four years after that, the participants were tested for cognitive impairment and dementia.

They found that those who walked at least 72 blocks per week -- six to nine miles -- had greater brain volume than people who didn't walk as much. Walking more than that, however, did not appear to offer any additional benefits to brain volume.

By the end of the study, 40 percent of the study’s volunteers had developed cognitive impairment or dementia. The researchers found that those who walked the most -- and had the greatest brain volume -- cut their risk of developing memory problems in half.

For such a small amount of exercise, that is huge. With recent headlines that crossword puzzles and brain games may only hide symptoms of dementia, it’s a relief to know that there are still some things we may be able to do to maintain our mental edge. And walking one mile a day is something any of us can do, no matter how out of shape or busy we are.

Does this study make you want to walk more often? Chime in below.

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