I received an email with this title recently:  New Medication Associated with a 50% Risk Reduction for Dementia! Wow! Now that’s almost unbelievable news.  Actually, “medication” grabs attention, but it’s not a medication in the usual sense of the word. What is it?

Lace up your shoes!

OK, there’s a big clue! It’s not a pill. I’m not sure you could really even call it a treatment. A practice or activity might be closer to the truth. If you guessed walking, you nailed it!

The Journal of the American Medical Association just reported on a study following over 78,000 adults over a seven-year period. The researchers looked at the relationship between the number of steps participants took each day (including regular, daily activities, not just “exercise”) and whether or not they developed dementia.

They were searching for an optimal number of steps.  After all, these days, steps are easy to count with fitbits or apple watches doing the math for us. I have a fitbit and it’s both motivating and fun to see how far I’ve walked. Many studies show that 6000-8000 steps/day decrease the risk of death from all causes, even more steps reducing cardiovascular risk.

So how many steps do I need to take?

It turns out that about 9800 steps/day is optimal and decreased risk of dementia by a whopping 51%!  Now, that may sound like a lot of steps (4.6 miles), but consider your trip to the grocery store. Depending on how long you meander through the aisles, you could easily rack up 1000-1500 steps. Retrieving your mail – more steps. Sometimes my husband and I race to be the one to take out the compost or empty the dryer to get in more steps.  We’ve both found that tracking our steps has switched our mindset from avoiding a small trip in the house, maybe to put something away in another room, to looking for opportunities to go downstairs or walk into the bedroom.

9800 Steps Still Sounds Like a Lot

The minimum recommended “dose” is 3800 steps, reducing risk by about 25%. But there is no minimum beneficial number- basically, every step counts!

And, there may even be a shortcut available, saving time if you are able to go faster.  The study also looked at the intensity with which participants walked. R

  • Incidental steps (less than 40/min like walking from room to room indoors)
  • Purposeful steps (more than 40/min as in exercising) and
  • Peak cadence, which was the average number of steps for the 30 minutes of highest intensity which was defined as 112 steps/minute.

Higher intensity (purposeful and peak cadence) were associate with lowest dementia risk. Fast walking 30 minutes daily (which doesn’t have to be all at once!) had a 62% lower dementia risk than the those who sauntered along at 30 steps/minute.

Do I have to be able to go 112 steps/minute?

No, stay safe and just walk at your best effort.  Now – if you’ve not been doing fast-paced walking, build up to it slowly.  Maybe join a walking group – the Corvallis Community Center has one – or a class. Speaking of classes, I usually teach Walking Well with Poles in the spring and fall.  Many of us find using poles enables us to move a bit faster while feeling safe and confident.  Details are posted under the classes tab a month or two in advance.

More Follow-up Needed

Participants in this study ranged in age from 40 to 79 with an average age of 61.1 years old.  Generally, dementia tends to develop later in life and only seven years of follow-up coupled with the younger ages involved may mean dementia just hadn’t yet developed in most people.  Still, there are other studies linking activity in mid-life to reduced risk of dementia in later life.  Researchers will continue to followup with these participants as well as mount other research, perhaps with older or less healthy individuals.

What’s to Lose?

Every medication and many treatments have side effects. And walking is no different. Side effects include improved mood, decreased risk of heart disease and diabetes, possible weight loss and chance to socialize with friends! What’s not to like?

Want to Read More about this Study?

Take Steps to Avoid Dementia

Marg Bartosek

I teach people to move younger as they age, tapping into greater ease and comfort in daily activities as well as enhanced safety, independence, and well-being. I also provides specialized resources for people living with Parkinson's disease. For more information or ask questions, please submit the Contact Form at https://margbartosek.com/contact-me/

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