Walking may help women keep their brains young, according to research presented during the American Academy of Neurology’s 53rd Annual Meeting, held last month in Philadelphia, PA.
Women who walk regularly are less likely to experience the memory loss and other declines in mental function that can come with aging, according to study author and neurologist Kristine Yaffe, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco.
“This is an important intervention that all of us can do and it could have huge implications in preventing cognitive decline,” Yaffe said.
For the study, researchers tested the cognitive abilities of 5,925 women who were 65 and older once and then again six to eight years later. The women who walked the least were most likely to develop cognitive decline — 24 percent of them had significant declines in their test scores, compared to 17 percent of the most active group. The least active women walked an average of about a half mile per week, while the most active group walked an average of nearly 18 miles per week. Walking included exercise and walking as a part of daily activities.
“But we also found that for every extra mile walked per week there was a 13 percent less chance of cognitive decline,” Yaffe said. “So you don’t need to be running marathons. The exciting thing is there was a ‘dose’ relationship which showed that even a little is good but more is better.”
Physical activity was measured by the number of blocks walked per week and also by the number of calories used in walking, recreation and stair-climbing.
“The results were almost identical when we measured the total number of calories used,” Yaffe said. “Examples of moderate activities that would reduce risk of decline would be playing tennis twice a week or walking a mile per day or playing golf once a week.”
To verify their results, the researchers also made calculations adjusting for other factors that could affect the results, such as the ages of the most active walkers versus the least active or their educational background, smoking history or amount of estrogen they took. Making the adjustments did not change the results, Yaffe said.
A neurologist is a medical doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system.
The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 17,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research.