Walking at least 9.7 km a week may help people keep their brains from shrinking and fight off dementia, US researchers said.
A study of nearly 300 people in Pittsburgh found that those who walked at least 9.7 km a week had less age-related brain shrinkage than people who walked less.
“Brain size shrinks in late adulthood, which can cause memory problems. Our results should encourage well-designed trails of physical exercise in order adults as a promising approach for preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr Kirk Erickson of the University of Pittsburgh, whose study was published in the journal Neurology.
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, slowly kills off brain cells, and activities like walking have been shown to build brain volume. There is no current cure for the disease which affects more than 26 million people globally.
Dr Erickson and his colleagues began their study in 1995, involving 299 volunteers who were free of dementia and who kept track of how much they walk. Nine years later, scientists took brain scans to measure their brain volume. After four more years, they tested to see if anyone in the study had cognitive impairment or dementia.
They found that people who walked roughly 9.7 km to 14.5 km a week halved their risk of developing memory problems. They said more studies needed to be done on the effects of exercise on dementia, but in the absence of any effective treatments for Alzheimer’s, walking may be one thing people can do that may help down the road.