It’s no secret that as we age we slow down both physically and mentally, particularly if we don’t take the necessary steps to keep both our bodies and minds in shape and sharp. In fact, there’s loads of evidence that physical and mental decline are often related, including a new study published in May 2022 that found an association between walking speed and dementia risk.
According the study, a decrease in walking speed as you age could be a sign of cognitive decline. While the new research is far from conclusive, it does relay the importance of taking care of both your body and your brain as you age to ensure both remain in peak form.
That’s not all. New research shows that gait speed isn’t the only way walking can affect dementia risk. It turns out, walking 3,800 to 9,800 steps a day may help reduce the risk of mental decline.
Study Findings: Walking Speed and Dementia Risk
A group of researchers from Australia, Minneapolis and Chicago sought to answer one simple question: “Which cognitive measure among global cognition, memory, processing speed, and verbal fluency is most useful in assessing risk of future dementia when combined with gait decline?”
In order to figure this out, the researchers embarked on “a cohort study of 16,855 relatively healthy older people in Australia and the U.S.” Participants in Australia were at least 70 years old, while the American subjects were at least 65 years old.
The data for this study was collected as part of the Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly trial that took place from 2010 to 2017. During this span of time, walking gait speed was measured every other year by having participants complete two three-meter walks.
At the same time, on alternating years, participants had cognition measured by using global cognitive function, delayed free recall, processing speed and verbal fluency tests. Both walking speed and cognition were tested at the very beginning and very end years of the trial as well.
At the conclusion of the trial, the subjects were divided into four groups:
- dual decline in gait and cognition
- gait decline only
- cognitive decline only
Here’s what the researchers found:
- “… a dual decline in gait and cognitive function compared with nondecliners was significantly associated with increased risk of dementia. This risk was highest in those with both gait and memory decline.”
- “These results highlight the importance of gait in dementia risk assessment and suggest that dual decline in gait speed and a memory measure may be the best combination to assess future dementia.”
- “Of domains examined, the combination of decline in gait speed with memory had the strongest association with dementia risk. These findings support the inclusion of gait speed in dementia risk screening assessments.”
Meanwhile, in even newer research published in September 2022, it was found that walking at least 3,800 for people ages 40 to 79 could help lower the risk of dementia.
Here’s what this study, conducted on 78,430 adults in the U.K., found:
- Those who walked 9,826 steps a day were 50 percent less likely to suffer from dementia within seven years.
- People who walked more than 40 steps per minute slashed dementia risk by 57 percent with even less steps — 6,315 to be exact.
- The participants who walked as little as 3,800 steps per day had a 25 percent lower risk of developing dementia.
- A 62 percent reduction in dementia risk was seen in people who walked 112 steps per minute for a half hour each day.
This is one caveat, per an article on this study from CNN:
The study did have some limitations, its authors point out – it was only observational, so it cannot establish a direct cause and effect between walking and a lower risk of dementia. In addition, “the age range of participants may have resulted in limited dementia cases, meaning our results may not be generalizable to older populations,” the study said.
“Because there are often considerable delays in dementia diagnosis, and this study did not include formal clinical and cognitive assessments of dementia, it is possible that the prevalence of dementia in the community was much higher,” the authors added.
While agreeing that the findings cannot be interpreted as a direct cause and effect, “the mounting evidence in support of the benefits of physical activity for maintaining optimal brain health can no longer be disregarded,” wrote [Alzheimer’s researchers Ozioma] Okonkwo and [Elizabeth] Planalp.
“It is time for the management of physical inactivity to be considered an intrinsic part of routine primary care visits for older adults,” they added.
What It Means: How to Protect Brain Health
This study provides more evidence that physical health and mental health affect one another. That’s no surprise, and the good news is that taking care of one helps protect the other.
As such, there are several things you can do to protect your cognitive health and help lower the risk for dementia, including:
- Avoid drugs linked to dementia if your health allows. These include some incontinence drugs, muscle relaxants, narcotic painkillers, anti-seizure meds, Parkinson’s drugs, tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, allergy meds and motion sickness meds.
- Try to sleep on your side.
- Eat a healthy diet full of brains foods, such as avocado, beets, berries, bone broth, leafy green veggies, healthy fats and more.
- Avoid foods that raise dementia risk. These may include red meat, refined carbs and sugar, and advanced glycation end products.
- Walk at least 10 minutes a day at least three times a week. This not only will help keep you in good physical shape as you age, but as this research shows, it can have a profound effect on mental health as well.
- New research published in May 2022 found an association between walking speed and dementia risk as people age. Specifically, researchers concluded that a slower walking gait as you age can indicate a greater risk for dementia.
- This study provides more evidence that physical and mental health affect one another, making it important to remain in shape and mentally sharp for optimal health as we age.
- Further research shows that walking at least 3,800 steps per day can cut dementia risk, while up to 9,800 steps could help slash that risk even more.
- Some ways you can decrease your risk for dementia include avoiding certain drugs, sleeping on your side, consuming a healthy diet and moving your body with daily exercise, such as walking, weight training, etc.