Regular Walking Protects the Aging Brain

WEDNESDAY Dec. 19, 2007 -- In people age 65 and older, simply walking regularly or engaging in other moderate exercise can reduce dementia risk, a new Italian study finds.

Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's disease.

This four-year study included 749 women and men over age 65 who had no memory problems at the start of the study. Researchers monitored the participants' weekly physical activity levels such as walking and climbing stairs, and moderate activities such as house and yard work, gardening and light carpentry.

By the end of the study, 54 of the participants had developed Alzheimer's disease and 27 had developed vascular dementia.

The findings are published in the Dec. 19 issue of the journal Neurology.

The top one-third of people who exerted the most energy walking were 27 percent less likely to develop vascular dementia than those in the bottom third, the study found. People who exerted the most energy in moderate activities were 29 percent less likely to develop vascular dementia, and those who were in the top one-third for total physical activity had a 24 percent reduced risk compared to those in the bottom third.

"Our findings show moderate physical activity, such as walking, and all physical activities combined lowered the risk of vascular dementia in the elderly independent of several sociodemographic, genetic and medical factors," study author Dr. Giovanni Ravaglia, of the University Hospital S. Orsola Malpighi in Bologna, said in a prepared statement.

"It's important to note that an easy-to-perform moderate activity like walking provided the same cognitive benefits as other, more demanding activities," Ravaglia noted.

More research is needed to determine how physical activity may help protect against vascular dementia, the study suggested.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about dementia.

Posted: December 2007


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