Walking Five Miles a Week May Slow Cognitive Decline

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Regular exercise has been shown to be beneficial to brain health by helping maintain cellular volume, thus reducing the risk of cognitive decline. In a study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), researchers have found that walking is both beneficial for healthy adults and those who are already experiencing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease.

Regular Exercise Maintains Brain Volume in Memory and Learning Centers

Cyrus Raji PhD of the Department of Radiology at the University of Pittsburgh studied the relationship between physical activity and brain structure in 426 people who were participating in the Cardiovascular Health Study. The cohort included 299 health adults (mean age 78) and 127 cognitively impaired adults (mean age 81).

The patients were monitored for level of physical activity, particularly how far they walked in a typical week. After 10 years, all patients underwent a 3D MRI exam to identify changes in brain volume. The patients were also given the mini-mental state exam, or MMSE, to track cognitive decline.

Read: Exercise Can Delay Cognitive Decline in those at Genetic Risk for Alzheimer's

For those already with cognitive deficits, the researchers found that “walking five miles per week protects the brain structure over 10 years in people with Alzheimer’s and MCI, especially in areas of the brain’s key memory and learning centers.” Those regular walkers also had a slower decline in memory loss over a five-year period, Dr. Raji said.

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Mild cognitive impairment indicates that a patient has cognition or memory problems that exceed typical age-related loss, but not yet as severe as those with diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease. About half of those with MCI will go on to develop Alzheimer’s.

Read: Walking And Moderate Exercise Help Prevent Dementia

Healthy adults without brain or cognition changes needed to walk slightly more to gain benefits – the equivalent of six miles per week maintained brain volume and reduced the risk of cognitive decline by 50% over a period of 13 years.

"Alzheimer's is a devastating illness, and unfortunately, walking is not a cure," said Dr. Raji. "But walking can improve your brain's resistance to the disease and reduce memory loss over time."

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that today, just over 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and that number is expected to increase to 7.7 million by the year 2030.

Source Reference:
Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) 96th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting: Abstract SSA17-01. Presented November 29, 2010.

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