5 Miles a Week Protects Brain for 10 Years

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Walking is a great form of cardiovascular exercise. It doesn't require any equipment and can be done anywhere, anytime. Walking can help strengthen your heart, but might also sharpen your mind. New research shows that walking could help slow the progression of Alzheimer's or even help prevent onset of the disease in healthy individuals.

The study, presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, analyzed weekly walking data from an ongoing 20-year study of over 400 adults between the ages of 78 and 81. 44 of the participants were diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and 83 were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, which can eventually progress to the full-blown disease. The rest of the group was considered to be cognitively healthy.

"After accounting for age, gender, body-fat composition, head size and education, the researchers determined that the more an individual engaged in physical activity, the larger his or her brain volume. Greater brain volume, they noted, is a sign of a lower degree of brain cell death as well as general brain health." Walking an average of 5 miles per week seemed to prevent further cognitive decline in individuals who are currently experiencing mild cognitive impairment. Walking 6 miles per week seemed to help protect the cognitive abilities of healthy adults.

When participants completed cognitive tests, those who didn't walk experienced larger declines over a 5-year period than those did walk regularly. Walking appeared to protect the brain structure over 10 years in people with Alzheimer's or mild cognitive impairment. But researchers do caution against reading too much into the results. "In an observational study like this, undoubtedly people who are developing cognitive disease or are likely to be in the early stages are also likely to become less active," he noted. "So, it's not possible to be sure that they're observing a direct effect of walking on the disease, because diminished walking in the group that is progressing more rapidly could have been a direct result of the disease itself."

Even if there's not a direct correlation, walking (and physical activity in general) have a host of other physical and mental benefits. This is just one more reason to stay active throughout your life.

What do you think?

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Hmmm. I would like to think this is some good news for the onset of Alzhiemers.I worry about getting it because most all of my dad's brothers and sisters, including his mother contracted it, and my dad also. There were 9 brothers and sisters altogether. A couple of them died at a somewhat younger age that didn't have it at the time they passed, but all the ones who lived to be elderly, all passed with Alzheimers.
All I can hope for is that this gene passed me up, and stay as healthy as I can. Living each day, one day at a time is my philosophy anyway. Report
My 84 year old mother in law has walked a couple miles a day for the last twenty years and is about in the middle stages of Alzheimers, she looks like she is about 65, and is otherwise healthy. I'm not convinced of the accuracy of this study either. I think genetics plays a large factor... three of her sisters also have it. Not to downplay exercise or walking at all... for all I know it may have slowed or delayed the onset. Report
I appreciate what research and learning is going on about the brain.
Like the suggestion of family walking with elderly relative . Think the walk and the companionship would do wonders Report
I liked this article and would like to see more articles along this line. Exploring the healthy body protector of a healthy brain connection could be highlighted more in the reading. Report
A few minutes here and there, adds up. Report
Walk away the stress, walk away the pounds, walk away dementia! Report
Yes, inspirational. I'm certainly going to try to up my exercise regime. Walking is easy...but it gets uncomfortable in this wet, cold climate. I wonder if there is a way I could chart my brain gain? Report
Not sure I believe this one. My grandfather used to walk a decent amount and still had increasingly worse Alzheimers. He kept walking even when his memory was going. At least it kept him healthier for a while, but unfortunately his Alzheimer's progressed fairly fast anyway. Report
My mom, we believe, is in the beginning stages of Alzheimers. We have an appointment with the neurologist Jan 15th to get some answers. I wonder if I try to set up times to walk with her on a regular basis if this will help slow down the progression? Report
Glad walking is a big part of my regular exercise! Report
Exercise is truly anti-aging! Report
I've helped with the care of two elderly sisters. The one who was always most active has slipped into serious Alzheimer's. She is driving them nuts in the care center she is now in because she walks all over the place. The inactive one is still very sharp mentally even if she has a hard time sitting up. This study doesn't seem very scientific to me. There doesn't seem to be any check on cause and effect or any controls here. It seems to be wishful thinking. I do however support walking or any other form of exercise you can do safely as being very good for everyone. Report
My dad was a walker - he said he walked to cool down his head after a working day, as a treat when he didn't have a working day - he always made up an excuse to run an errand and would walk. Yet the normal man with no need for drugs died of heart failure. I still can't figure it out. Report
Any physical activity is good for you. Our bodies were not meant to be still. Keep moving! Report
Any physical activity is good for you. Our bodies were not meant to be still. Keep moving! Report
Any physical activity is good for you. Our bodies were not meant to be still. Keep moving! Report
Walking is my primary exercise, so this is indeed good news. Very interesting information. Report
Walking is my primary source of exercise and it has allowed me to lose 30 pounds in the last year and 1/2. Plus I lost 30 more pounds that I have maintained for over 5 years. I have always looked at it as a great time to think, clear my head, etc. To hear the effects on the brain helps me validate what I feel. Thanks for sharing. Report
This article is very informing. It would be nice to read more articles about the brain. Report
Our minds and bodies are connected so it makes complete sense that physical activity improves the function of our brains. Report
I'm about to turn 64 and I see disturbing signs of memory loss. My opinion is this: What harm could I do to myself by walking? NONE. The idea of preventing a dreaded decline is enough to keep me motivated!!!! Report
For me, walking has always been a great way to think, to solve problems, and to free my mind for more creativity. (And when I used to walk to work, it helped to keep me slim.) I recently heard a series of BBC radio broadcasts about walking; it talked about people like the poet Wordsworth who was a tremendous walker (20 miles a day was 'normal') and who composed much of his poetry while walking. This was a reaffirmation of my own conclusions about walking. There is something in the motion of walking that connects deeply with the mind. My husband and I have used walking over the last 31 years to work out a variety of problems and we continue to walk at least 1/2 hour every day - weather and time permitting. Sometimes as we're walking, it feels as if we could just keep going and going. Wish I had the time to walk a couple of hours a day.

Great blog. Thanks! Report
I've lost over 35 lbs. walking in 2010. It's amazing to see what you can do and where you can go just by walking. Report
I use the milage tracker here on Spark to track my walks with my dogs. It is great as you can track the different route you use. In 2010 we walked 1010 kms which worked out to an average of almost 3 kms a day or in USA terms about a mile a day. I also work out at the gym 5 days a week. But I know since I started doing this 3 years ago, I am off all depression medication, am happier and healther.

Plus once yuo have started to walk with your dogs they will refuse to take no for an answer. So we walk at least twice a day, rain, snow, sunshine, darkness, hot or cold. Report
Every New Years day after dinner, mom and I cleared the table and washed the dishes. Well the men went directly for the football games. Afterwards, we would sneak out and take a hour long walk. I'm going to walk today after dinner. Report
I love studies like this because if it were just about weight, I wouldn't have the motivation to exercise. My main reason for regular activity is that it protects my brain, insulates it from anxiety and depression, and, as we can see here, preserves my cognitive faculties. Report
5 MILES I thought - who can do that each week? Then I remembered that an english mile is not 10km as is the swedish mile... :-))
Very interesting information! Report
We have watched several loved ones die from dementia. My MIL was active and walked everywhere until she was 99. After a fall, her mind went very quickly into dementia and she died within a few months. Thanks for posting this article. It reminds me how important walking and strength are as we age. Report
i walk every day . I can not walk outside but do it in my home . set the timer and walk . through the house . back and forth . pretend i am somewhere else . somedays clean house as i walk take this from there and put back here . .. feel better .doing this then anything else i have ever done . Report
I've lost 28 lbs walking! I love it...it's very addicting!!! Report
I love to walk. My grandma walked a lot as long as she could and she lived to be 94. I think it helped her as well as other long living relatives, a grandpa that lived to be 93 or 94. I have another grandma who will be 97 this April who I don't think walks all that much and she is still very sharp mentally. I think it's a combo of healthy habits, good nutrition, exercise, spirituality and maybe some other factors. I definitely think that walking daily is a wonderful healthy habit. Report
My Dad had it and walked like CRAZY after he was diagnosed and even in the nursing home. Not saying it doesn't help but like some toher said it didn't help him. Report
Jack LaLanne, the GodFather of Fitness is 96 and works out 2 hours ever single day of his life. He lifts weighs for 90 minutes and he either Power Walks or Swims for 30 minutes. I'm amazed when I see him on interviews how he has no dementia and his back is as straight as a board. He says he hates to exercise, but he loves the benefits. Report
My husband was diagnosed with mild to moderate Alhzheimer's last year and I have noticed that he has no interest in exercising. I take him to the gym 5 days a week but he insists on only sitting in the whirlpool and steam room and talking to people. I have asked him to go on walks with me but he declines every time I try to get him outdoors. I am sure it would help him, but I can't seem to inspire him. Report
Running is my go-to exercise most of the time, but I still do really love to walk. There's nothing like a walk in the great outdoors to clear your head and just generally feel better about your day! Report
I walk 4-5 miles daily!! So glad to read this blog, this encourages me all the more to keep up my walking routine. Report
My dad walked every day for 20 years and averaged between 10 to 12 miles a day. My mom hid his dementia from us and she died in a car accident in which he was at fault. He lived in a nursing home not knowing us for the last 4 years of his life. Didn't work for him. Report
I walked 15 miles this week and I feel great! My memory is somewhat better when I exercise... Report
I believe exercise improves quality of life so this inspires me to keep moving. Report
That is a great motivation to me. My grandmother has Alzheimers and is has been a HORRIBLE thing to watch her go through! I will do anything to not travel that road... and make my husband and children go through what we all have!!!! Report
It's good encouragement to continue with the walking, rather than returning to being lazy. Report
great blog now it is time to get out and walk Report
I agree! Report
It makes sense. There are been many studies that have linked exercise to increased cognitive ability. The theory is that the activity (like walking) helps to increase blood flow to the brain, thus helping to improve its function. I do enjoy walking for many different reasons. This is just the icing on the cake. so to speak. ;) Report
This is great news. My grandfather lived until he was in his 90's with no noticeable cognitive decline. This man walked everywhere in NYC everyday up until the day he died- and I definitely attribute his excellent mental and physical health ( he was rarely sick) to healthy eating (he cooked with olive oil before it was the rage) and his daily long walks. I will keep up my personal exercise routine in hopes of enjoying a long and healthy life. Report
It is very motivating to learn about all the health benefits of something as simple as walking! Report
More of an incentive to keep a healthy lifestyle. Report
I will be sharing this article with my in-laws. My father-in-law was just diagnosed to be in the very early stages of dementia and the family is discouraging him from doing so many things. Besides it also encourages me to begin walking once again!! Thank you!!! Report
I think being healthy makes you healthy! lol Report
What a great incentive to continue my walking regime. Thank you. Report
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