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Thursday, January 19, 2023

Walk Intensity Can Lower Dementia Risk, Weight

We all know walking is good for us, but new research suggests that walking with a little more oomph can improve the benefits. 

Evidence keeps mounting that walking is good for us. New research shows that taking 8,600 steps daily prevents weight gain, while those who are already overweight can cut their chances of becoming obese in half just by adding on another 2,400 steps. Another study by the same research team found that the risk of dementia was lowered by 50% by taking 10,000 steps daily but taking as few as 3,800 steps a day can decrease your risk by a quarter.

What’s even better is that those steps didn’t have to be taken all at once but could be spread out over the day. Even walking about in the course of doing housework, gardening, and dog walking will lower your likelihood of getting both cancer and heart disease, says study coauthor Borja del Polo Cruz, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense and senior researcher in health sciences for the University of Cadiz in Spain.

Higher Cadence Confers More Benefits

If you want to minimize your risk of getting dementia (down by 62%), make sure that at least 30 minutes of that walking occurs at a brisk pace of about 112 steps per minute. That’s when you have a little trouble responding to questions because you’re out of breath. 

CDC Recommends 3 Types of Exercise for Healthy Aging  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says “physical activity is essential to healthy aging.” They recommend that seniors aged 65 and older get:
  • At least 150 minutes a week (for example, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) of moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking. Or they need 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity such as hiking, jogging, or running.
  • At least 2 days a week of activities that strengthen muscles
  • Activities to improve balance such as standing on one foot about 3 days a week.

“Our take is that intensity of stepping matters – over and above volume,” says del Pozo Cruz.

The study covered 78,500 people from England, Scotland, and Wales who were between 40 and 79. They wore wrist step counters that measured total steps, when they were taken, and at what pace. Researchers put total walking steps into two categories: less than 40 steps a minute, or ambling, and more than 40 steps a minute, or purposeful walking. Then, they created a third category for the people who took the most steps per minute in their top 30 minutes throughout the day. 

Seven years later, the participants in the top category, who took 80 steps per minute in their fastest 30 minutes, exhibited the largest reduction in their risk for cancer, heart disease and early death from any cause. These people got a 62% reduction in dementia risk, an 80% fall in their risk of cardiovascular disease and death, and around a 20% drop in their likelihood of getting cancer. 

“This (decline) may be related with specific pathways by which physical activity is beneficial,” says del Pozo Cruz. “It pushes the body in general: can generate more muscle, a bigger heart and a better fitness, all of which are known protective factors for cardiovascular disease and cancer, and other health issues too.”


Other doctors agree. “Physical activity is just absolutely magnificent,” says Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado. “And when you blend that with eating a more plant-based diet, de-stressing, sleeping enough and connecting with others – that’s your magic recipe. It’s the fountain of youth, if you will.”

The takeaway is to get out walking, no matter when or where, and to keep walking throughout the day. Push yourself to go fast enough to get breathless for 30 minutes or more. “Spend 30 minutes being breathless at whatever pace you’re at” recommends Freeman, “and then keep challenging yourself to be slightly unsatisfied at your current level so you can get better and better.”