Perhaps one of the simplest and most beneficial of all possible exercise choices is that of walking. Remember, one of the goals in developing a comprehensive program for longevity is the greatest return for the least investment. If a little voice says, “Go for a walk,” it might be your brain telling you what it needs.
Two studies reveal how the simple act of taking a walk each day may offer significant protection from a major health problem. Cognitive decline is a symptom that signals the possible onset of Alzheimer’s disease (the leading cause of dementia among aging adults). The Journal of the American Medical Association published two studies that address the effects of light exercise on cognitive decline in older women and dementia in elderly men.
Harvard researchers conducted the first study. Questionnaires were used to assess physical activity levels and exercise patterns for more than 18,700 women, aged 70 to 81 years. Questionnaires covered a minimum of nine years, and were followed up with two telephone interviews with each subject to assess cognitive health measures, such as memory and attention span.
Researchers noted much better cognitive function and less cognitive decline were both strongly associated with “long-term regular physical activity, including walking.” They found that women who walked two to three hours at an easy pace each week “performed significantly better on these tests of cognition than women who walked less than one hour per week.” Even less cognitive decline was noted in women who walked six or more hours each week. These results parallel another benefit of regular walking among women.
A previous six-year breast cancer study that included data on more than 74,000 women over the age of 50, found that women who exercise regularly have lower breast cancer rates. Only a couple of hours of brisk walking each week may provide enough exercise to reduce breast cancer risk. The second study looked at the association between walking exercise and the risk of dementia in men aged 71 to 93. They collected three years of exercise data on more than 2,200 men.
At the outset of the study, none of the men had been diagnosed with dementia or conditions that would prevent them from walking (like stroke or Parkinson’s disease). Over several years, two follow-up exams were conducted to assess neurological health. Almost 160 of the men developed dementia during the study period. Results show that men who walked between a quarter mile and one mile per day had a lower risk of dementia than those who walked less than a quarter mile each day. In this study, more was clearly better because men who walked less than a quarter mile per day had nearly twice the risk of dementia, compared to those who walked more than two miles each day.
In Health, Dr D
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