Alzheimers Disease Can be Offset by Walking

The idea of coming down with Alzheimers Disease strikes fear into many of us as we get older. We are merely passengers on this ride, and apart from living a healthy life, can do nothing to prevent it if it strikes. However, researchers have recently found that walking just a mile a day can ward off the disease.

"This is the first study that really looked over a several-year span and was able to assess this," said study author Kirk Erickson, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Erickson's study found that walking at least one mile per day significantly enhanced the volume of several regions of the brain, including the frontal lobe, which is involved in reasoning and problem-solving.

The researchers also found people who walked that distance reduced their risk of cognitive impairment by about half. However, walking more than one mile every day did not further improve brain volume.

Gray matter shrinks as adults age, increasing the potential for cognitive impairment and raising the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, Erickson said. Approximately 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer's disease, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Previous studies by University of Illinois researchers have examined the effects of physical activity on brain function in the elderly over shorter time spans, from six months to one year, Erickson said.

However, in this study, participants were evaluated based on an initial measurement of walking, then followed for 13 years. People of this age may be prone to falls and illnesses that inhibit other daily exercise routines, he said."The fact that we can take a single snapshot of physical activity, and then use that to predict how much brain tissue you have nine years later, makes it all the more astonishing with the fact that we don't have to measure what kinds of physical activity you are doing in between," Erickson told reporters.The study began with 299 dementia-free participants, ages 70 to 90, in 1989. Researchers measured how many blocks they walked per week and, at nine and 13 years after the initial examination, scientists assessed them with high-resolution magnetic resonance imagining (MRI).In a final evaluation,116 of these people were diagnosed with dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which can lead to Alzheimer's disease, while 169 (excluding those deceased prior to the follow-up) remained free of these conditions.
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