Walking May Cut Alzheimer's Risk

Walking 6 Miles a Week May Protect Against Dementia

Walking a little over three-fourths of a mile a day may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
          Among people who already have mild cognitive impairment (MCI), walking a similar amount may slow the brain degeneration and memory loss associated with the condition,
"In cognitively normal adults, walking 6 miles a week instead of being sedentary was associated with a 50% reduction in Alzheimer's risk over 13 years.
"In people with MCI, walking just 5 miles a week reduced brain atrophy and cognitive decline -- by more than 50%.
Any type of exercise that's equivalent to walking 5 or 6 miles a week will probably offer the same brain protection.

As Brain Cells Die, Brain Volume Decreases

Between 2.4 million and 5.1 million American have Alzheimer's disease, according to the National Institute on Aging. Alzheimer's is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and cognitive skills.
People with MCI have greater memory loss than would be expected with normal aging.              
People with mild cognitive impairment are at increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease within a few years. But not everyone who gets a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment goes on to develop Alzheimer's.
For the ongoing study, analyzed the relationship between walking and brain structure in 426 people: 299 cognitively healthy adults, 83 people with MCI, and 44 people with Alzheimer's dementia.

All participants also underwent MRI exams in 1992-1994 and 1998-1999, so researchers could measure changes in brain volume.
"Brain volume is a good, reliable way" of studying brain health, As brain cells die, brain volume drops.
In addition, participants were given the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE), a brief test of cognitive skills, including attention span and memory, at various times throughout the study, with the final one five years after the second MRI scan. The MMSE is used to help doctors make a diagnosis of MCI or Alzheimer's dementia.

Walking Associated With Slower Mental Decline

As shown by MRI, brain volume was preserved in healthy adults who walked at least 72 city blocks, or 6 miles, per week.
Cognitive exam and MMSE scores showed walking six miles a week was associated with a 50% decline in Alzheimer's risk over 13 years,
Walking more than 72 blocks a week offered no additional benefit.
Cognitively impaired people needed to walk at least 58 city blocks, or approximately 5 miles, per week to maintain brain volume and slow cognitive decline.
Over 10 years, scores on the 30-point MMSE dropped by an average of five points in cognitively impaired patients who were sedentary, compared with one point in those who walked 5 miles per week.
"Going down five points is a lot,"  It's the difference between being cognitively normal and cognitively impaired.
The association between walking and MRI and MMSE results persisted even after the analysis was adjusted to take into account other risk factors for dementia including age, gender, and high blood pressure.


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