One Step at a Time can keep your Brain Sharp

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Step by step by step by step. Walking, as it turns out, just might keep your brain sharp well into retirement age. So slip on those sneakers and read this.

New research shows that walking about six miles per week may protect brain size and, in turn, preserve memory in old age. The study was published in the latest online issue of “Neurology.” And what jumps out about that finding is that six miles a week is not an awfully significant distance!

The size of your brain shrinks in late adulthood. This can trigger problems with memory. Age-related memory loss is a common problem in society, but one misconception is that it’s something we all have to live with, because it happens naturally. In fact, this isn’t correct at all. There are many ways to help protect your memory as you age. And this study focuses on one: the exercise option. Results showed that physical exercise in older adults is definitely a promising approach for preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. And the exercise involved was not anything too strenuous.

In the study, 299 dementia-free people recorded the number of blocks they walked in one week. Nine years later, scientists took brain scans of the participants to measure their brain size. After four more years, the participants were tested to see if they had developed cognitive impairment or dementia.

The results: those who walked at least 72 blocks per week had greater gray matter volume than people who didn’t walk as much. That number of blocks is equivalent to between six and nine miles. That result was measured at the nine-year time period after the recorded activity. Interestingly enough, walking more than 72 blocks did not appear to increase gray matter volume any further. So it’s all about a good, healthy amount of walking without going overboard.

In this way, a trip to the corner store to get milk could help shield dementia — but only if you walk.

By four years after the study, 116 of the participants, or 40%, had developed cognitive impairment or dementia. The researchers found that those who walked the most cut their risk of developing memory problems in half.

The researchers say that regular exercise in midlife could improve brain health and improve thinking and memory in later life. And that is something we should all seriously consider.

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