Want to reduce your risk for dementia? Slap on a step counter and start tallying your steps – you’ll need between 3,800 and 9,800 each day to reduce your risk of mental decline, according to a new study.
People between the ages of 40 and 79 who took 9,826 steps per day were 50% less likely to develop dementia within seven years, the study found. Furthermore, people who walked with “purpose” – at a pace over 40 steps a minute – were able to cut their risk of dementia by 57% with just 6,315 steps a day.
“It is a brisk walking activity, like a power walk,” said study coauthor Borja del Pozo Cruz, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, Denmark, and senior researcher in health sciences for the University of Cadiz in Spain.
Even people who walked approximately 3,800 steps a day at any speed cut their risk of dementia by 25%, the study found.
“That would be enough, at first, for sedentary individuals,” said del Pozo Cruz in an email.
“In fact, it is a message that doctors could use to motivate very sedentary older adults – 4k steps is very doable by many, even those that are less fit or do not feel very motivated,” he added. “Perhaps, more active and fitter individuals should aim for 10k, where we see maximum effects.”
The scientists followed up with the participants 7 years later, noting any diagnoses of dementia. They then compared steps with the diagnosis, factoring in age, ethnicity, education, sex, socio-emotional status, how many days the participant wore the accelerometer, diet, smoking, alcohol use, medication use, sleep issues, and any history of cardiovascular disease.
Some of the findings included:
- People who took 9,826 steps per day were 50 percent less likely to develop dementia within seven years.
- People who walked more than 40 steps per minute cut their dementia risk by 57 percent while walking only 6,315 steps per day.
- People who walked 3,800 steps per day at any speed cut their risk of dementia within seven years by 25 percent.
- People who walked at the brisk pace of 112 steps per minute for 30 minutes per day reduced their risk of dementia by 62 percent.
An editorialTrusted Source that accompanied the study results suggested that people focus on their walking pace rather than the distance walked or the number of steps per day, aiming for 112 steps per minute.
To find your steps per minute, count the number of steps in 10 seconds and then multiply by 6 to find your steps/per minute.
The researchers point out that even walking 3,800 steps daily reduces the risk of dementia. This amount is doable for primarily sedentary people.
“When it comes to healthy aging, exercise is about the closest thing we have to a miracle drug,” said Dr. Scott Kaiser, a geriatrician and the director of Geriatric Cognitive Health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California.
“The key is to get moving and stay moving,” Kaiser told Healthline. “Having clear goals, an action plan, and developing a routine, including activities you enjoy and that make you feel good, can go a long way toward creating and sustaining lasting change.”
Previous research on brain health
Several studies in the past year have concluded that regular physical activity can lower the risk of developing dementia.
A studyTrusted Source published in January reported that exercise can slow the progression of dementia in people whose brains have signs of plaques, tangles, and other hallmarks of dementia. The researchers said they believe that exercise boost levels of proteins that strengthen communication between brain cells, which might help keep dementia at bay.
A study published in August found that completing household chores lowered the risk of dementia by 21 percent. In addition, daily visits with family and friends reduced the risk by 15 percent compared to people who did not engage in these activities.
Lowering dementia risk
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Kaiser.” When it comes to dementia, experts suggest that somewhere around one-third of cases might be prevented by addressing modifiable risk factors. Considering the predictions of the rising number of people who will be impacted – worldwide dementia cases to triple by 2050 to over 150 million people — we need to start thinking now, and on a massive scale, about the best possible strategies and approaches to prevent dementia.”
Many doctors agree that exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia.
“Many studies have shown that more exercise is associated with a lower risk of dementia,” Dr. Douglas Scharre, the director of the division of Cognitive Neurology in the Department of Neurology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Healthline.
Scharre also suggests:
- Stimulating your brain
- Not smoking
- Controlling hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia
- Eating a healthy diet, for example, the Mediterranean diet
- Keep learning