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As the weather grows colder here in the Northeast, I’ve slacked off a bit on my daily walks.
I know I can always head for the treadmill, which I purchased last year so I could keep up with walking when the snow starts flying.
Now, I’ve got even more reason to keep walking than just keeping my weight under control.
At 66, I’m not especially worried about my mental sharpness (although I do misplace my phone and keys more often!).
However, I’ve read research that convinces me that a regular walking routine could be a simple way to keep dementia from catching up with me as I get older — and the minimum amount of steps to benefit is much lower than expected…
4000 steps makes a significant impact
Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark used longitudinal data from the UK Biobank to see if they could associate walking with a reduced risk of dementia, and if so, how much walking was an ideal amount.
Several years ago, researchers from the University of California proved that walking 4000 steps a day actually changed the size of the brains in study subjects aged 60 and over.
In particular, the hippocampus became thicker. This area of the brain is responsible for mood, memory and learning.
The present Danish study had similar results.
“We estimated the minimum dose at approximately 3,800 steps per day, which was associated with 25 percent lower incident dementia,” said Dr. Borja del Pozo Cruz, lead researcher on the study.
Higher steps and intensity begets greater results
Walking 9800 steps a day brought about a 50 percent risk reduction for dementia.
But if those steps were taken at a faster pace, the benefit was even greater.
Walking for half an hour at a pace of 112 steps per minute reduced dementia risk by 62 percent!
In an editorial accompanying the research report, Dr. Ozioma Okonkwo, a neuropsychologist in the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology at the University of Wisconsin, makes this comment:
“While 112 steps/min is a rather brisk cadence, ‘112’ is conceivably a much more tractable and less intimidating number for most individuals than ‘10,000,’ especially if they have been physically inactive or underactive.”
In other words, for someone who is just starting a walking program, it may be easier to focus on the 112 steps per minute than on the larger numbers. Doing so could help them commit to a regular regimen of walking.
Tailor your walking plan and get started
Walking is the only exercise that can be done without additional equipment, gym memberships, etc. Still, it can be hard to get started if you’re used to a sedentary lifestyle.
Remember that it’s well worth it. Not only does walking keep dementia away. It protects against heart disease and reduces your risk of cancer.
If you can work up to 4,000 steps a day, kudos to you. When you meet that goal you can decide if you want to work towards a higher goal or incorporate a little more speed into every step.
So, here are a few tips to help you make brisk walking a part of your daily routine.
Make it a group effort. Research shows that people who walk in groups reap more health benefits than people who walk alone.
Walk faster. There’s lots of proof that a leisurely walk doesn’t hold a candle to a brisk walk that makes you break a sweat. Here and here are some tips for building up your pace without feeling like you’re running a marathon!
Finally, although walking is as natural as, well, breathing, there are rights and wrongs when it comes to walking for exercise. Here are 7 mistakes that could ruin your healthy walking habit.
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Dementia Risk Tied to Daily Step Count — Medpage Today
Walk 4,000 steps every day to boost brain function — Medical News Today