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Walk to remember

Taking this many steps daily may cut risk for dementia in half.

Article Author: Juice Staff

Article Date:

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Like “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” some health advice sounds too simple to be true. But a new study has found that walking about 10,000 steps per day lowers your chance of getting dementia by half, and walking briskly lowers it by 68%.

If that just sounds like too many steps, don’t despair: taking even 4,000 a day will cut dementia risk by a quarter. The analysis, published in JAMA Neurology, studied the walking habits of over 78,000 adults for a three-year period and compared them to medical records many years later.

The health benefits of walking have been researched before, said Raphael Balbino, MD, a geriatrician with Baptist AgeWell Center for Health. One patient of his, in her 80s, walks 11,000 steps every day no matter what, either by doing errands or through supplemental exercise.

“It’s something she has internalized,” Dr. Balbino said. “She feels like it's something positive she can do to influence her health.”

A daily routine of 10,000 steps may only seem high because life in Western countries has become so sedentary, Dr. Balbino added. People from other cultures are used to walking long distances on a daily basis and they are going to naturally be healthier because of it. For example, in Okinawa, Japan, where life expectancy is the highest in the world, walking and cycling are more common than driving, Dr. Balbino said.

“My grandmother lives in Brazil and never drove a car. For decades she walked long distances several times each day, to buy groceries at the store, produce at the market, or to go to church,” Dr. Balbino said. “She’s 92 and is limited from walking now due to health issues. But her mind is still as sharp as a tack.”

Making steps routine

You don’t necessarily have to go the gym to put more steps into your day. Simple choices can add up. Try:

  • Standing and pacing during a conversation, rather than sitting
  • Walking the dog
  • Parking the car at the far end of the lot
  • Finding a convenient path near home or work to take a walk
  • Taking a walk during your lunch break

People who have trouble walking might try pedaling a leg exercise machine while sitting.

“It’s important to exercise more,” Dr. Balbino said. “But it doesn’t have to be, ‘This is one more box I have to check off.’ You can build it into what you’re already doing.”

The exercise-brain connection

Doctors believe walking helps reduce vascular dementia, which is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s. It develops when blood flow to the brain is impaired. This can happen when blood vessels become damaged by cholesterol and fats or from toxins, like those in cigarettes. When this occurs, the vessels don’t deliver oxygen to the brain as effectively.

“Just like in your heart or other parts of your body, you need good circulation to feed your body and your brain,” Dr. Balbino said. “That’s what vascular sufficiency is.”

Exercise helps reduce inflammation in blood vessels and promotes better circulation by building more capillary pathways. It’s one of the pillars of a brain-healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, a healthy diet, social connections and mentally stimulating activities.

“People who live this way are much less likely to get dementia,” Dr. Balbino said. “Or if they do, it’s more likely to be mild and something that happens at the very tail end of life, as opposed to something the person is living with for 10 years or more.”


Baptist AgeWell Center for Health helps seniors age 65+ stay active for themselves, family and friends. For more information or to make an appointment, click here or call 904.202.4243.

Sources: JAMA Neurology, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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