There are many health benefits to regular walking. It helps your heart, lungs, joints and muscles. It may even regulate your bowel movements. You can add one more benefit to that list. According to a recent Australian study, regular walking is the best defense against age-related memory loss.
The researchers at the University of Melbourne followed 387 women for two decades. They found that participants who did some form of movement every day were less likely to suffer memory loss in their 60s and 70s, compared to their sedentary peers.
The article, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, shows that little physical effort like walking can go a long way in improving cognition in old age. Dementia is one condition that affects older individuals and affects their cognition.
Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. It accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases.
The Australian researchers set out to find risk factors for dementia that could be changed. The study participants were between the ages of 45 and 55 when the study began in 1992. The researchers tested their cognitive abilities at the outset to get a baseline measure.
In the study, regular physical activity had the most protective effect on short-term memory. But aerobic exercise – the kind that makes you breathe heavily – proved less important than frequency of movement. If a person walked more then the benefit was greater.
Researchers concluded that physical activity has a direct relationship with cognition, over and above any influence on weight and cholesterol. The idea is to move more and move often. If you have difficulty walking then take up swimming or other activity that will keep you moving.
A study published in 2014 says if you take your brain for a brisk walk three times a week then it delays dementia. Studies on men and women aged 60 to 80 found that taking a short walk three times a week increased the size of brain regions linked to planning and memory over the course of a year.
The results suggest that brain and cognitive function of the older adults remain plastic and highly malleable. We used to think that as you get older there is inevitable decline in your brain function. That is not true. Don’t give up on your brain.
Reports indicate there is a desperate need for any approach that could slow the rising epidemic of dementia. An estimated 44.4 million people now have dementia worldwide, and that number is expected to reach 75.6 million in 2030, according to figures from Alzheimer’s Disease International.
If you are able to walk then keep walking. If not then do some other physical activity that will keep your brain busy. Move more, move often.
Start reading the preview of my book A Doctor's Journey for free on Amazon. Available on Kindle for $2.99!