ADULTS WHO TAKE JUST UNDER 10,000 STEPS each day appear to have a lower risk of dementia. That’s the conclusion of British researchers assessing over 78,000 individuals aged 40 to 79 (with an average age of 61). Today we explore these encouraging research findings recently reported in JAMA Neurology.
The World Health Organization explains that dementia is a syndrome, typically chronic or progressive, leading to declines in the ability to process thoughts beyond what is expected from normal aging.
Dementia can affect memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, and judgment. There can be associated changes in emotional control, behavior, or motivation.
Dementia can be secondary to injuries or brain diseases like stroke or Alzheimer’s. The World Health Organization offers that dementia is the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases and is a major cause of disability and dependency among older people.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease represents 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Vascular dementia is due to microscopic bleeding and blood vessel blockage in the brain. This dementia form is the second most common cause of dementia.
Some simultaneously have multiple dementia types or mixed dementia. Many other conditions can cause symptoms of dementia, including some that are reversible, such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies.
Walking to lower your dementia risk
Can we walk our way to a lower risk of dementia? The answer may be yes. A recently reported study assessed daily step count from accelerometers worn on wrists.
The researchers tracked participants in the U.K. Biobank cohort from February 2013 to December 2015. They evaluated the number of daily steps, whether the steps were “incidental” (less than 40 steps per minute) or purposeful (40 or more steps per minute).
The scientists also examined peak 30-minute cadence (average steps per minute for the 30 highest minutes of the day, not necessarily consecutive).
Let’s get right to the results. After an average follow-up of 6.9 years, 866 people received a dementia diagnosis, as demonstrated by medical records or listed as a contributory cause of death in registry data.
The number of daily steps taken appeared to be associated with dementia risk. The optimal step count was 9,826 steps, which appeared linked with a halving of risk. The minimal step count (associated with half of the risk reduction of the maximum risk reduction) was 3,826 steps.
Getting more granular, the ideal incidental cadence step count was 3,677 steps. This incidental cadence step number dropped risk by about 42 percent. The purposeful cadence optimal step count appeared to be 6,315, and the peak 30-minute cadence optimal dose was 112 steps per minute (two-thirds risk reduction), a rather brisk walk.
My take: Walking to lower your dementia risk
I love this study, even though I recognize it is observational (and thus does not represent high-level evidence that walking reduces dementia risk). The research contributes to step count-based recommendations to potentially dodging dementia.
The participants’ age range may have resulted in a limited number of dementia cases. Whether the positive findings apply to an older population is uncertain.
With the easy availability of step counting devices for many of us, we can track our accumulating daily steps (without formal exercise). While I will still aim for 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity, I like that I can also look at my wrist to see how I am doing on any given day.
In summary, as few as 3,800 steps per day are associated with a one-quarter lower risk of dementia. On the other end of the spectrum of walking, 112 steps per minute in 30 minutes had the greatest impact on dropping dementia incidence.
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